Thursday, 7 June 2012

Book 42 of 2012: Dracula

Book 42 of 2012 is significant because it’s also the first ebook I read on my Kindle. Having finished Seabiscuit on my way to Glasgow for my final tutorial for my linguistics course, I dug out the Kindle and fired up Dracula. I had been a little apprehensive about actually getting a Kindle because I wasn’t sure how I would feel about not reading a real book, but by the time I started heading home I was well into the format. I also decided that it would be the right text to use for my final assignment, or EMA, which meant that while I was reading it, I was also looking out for suitable extracts to use for an analysis I was sort of needing to start right away.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the story of Dracula, it’s kind of the original Vampire novel. It’s told through the diaries, letters, telegrams and newspaper articles from the main characters and tells how Count Dracula comes to the UK, while the characters try to track him down and stop him. Okay, I’m clearly over-simplifying here, but Dracula is such a huge cultural icon that when you’re asked to explain what the story is, it’s a little tricky to know what to say; it’s Dracula!
I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve had it set on my shelf, waiting to be read since round about the last time that I reorganised the bookcase. It had been a bit of a possibility for my final assignment and I kept on meaning to read it with a view to using it for the course, but my copy isn’t very practical for carrying around. When I decided I wanted to read Dracula a few years ago (before we went on holiday to North Yorkshire) I just didn’t feel satisfied with a cheap Penguin paperback copy, I wanted something that looked the part. So I splashed out on a fancy hardback copy with red dust jacket and elegant script on the cover. It looks fantastic, but gets rather battered when you’ve been carrying it around for a week. So this made it ideal for eReader material.
The language used in the book, which I did find myself paying rather a lot of attention to, after all, that was what I was supposed to be writing about, is lovely. It was quite useful being able to select certain words and look up the meanings of them. I’ve noticed on occasions, especially when I’ve been reading older books like Sherlock Holmes that there are words which have fallen out of use or which I’m just not sure of the meanings of them. You can usually work out what is meant when you read it in context, and sometimes I might think to scrawl it in the back of my book journal to look up later (by which time I’ve probably forgotten the exact context of the word because it’s been weeks since I jotted it down anyway), so being able to just click on a word and see what it means is definitely a bonus as far as I’m concerned.

That’s not to say that it didn’t take me a while to get used to the electronic format. Generally when I’m reading, I like to measure my progress by how much of the book you can hold in your hands; more pages in the right than the left, you’ve got a long way to go; more pages in the left than the right, you’re getting close to the end. I like to partition the book up into chapters and hold them between my fingers to measure how many I have left to go, or flick through the pages I’ve already read to remind myself of events that have already happened.

You can’t do that with an ebook. Instead I measured my progress through a little figure in the bottom right hand corner of the screen which told me what percentage of the book I had read; and I highlighted sections of text or folded down corners (without damaging the book, I might add) to select passages I might want to return to. I was even able to search for a word or name, like ‘Whitby’ and bring up all the pages which made reference to that, which came in handy when I was trying to narrow down exactly which portion of the text I intended to talk about in my assignment.

I highlighted loads of quotes in it as well. Having been a part of, I think, five Book Trees, I've come to quite enjoy writing little notes in the margins of the books I read. Obviously, I don’t do it for all the books I read, just those in the ‘Tree’s but I do enjoy it. There’s something nice about interacting with the words on the page, rather than just reading them, even if I can’t bring myself to scribble in the margins of my own copies of my books. But with the Kindle I can highlight bits and make notes on them should I wish. There’s also a nice little function there to highlight mistakes in the text (though only in certain books, I should note) and notify Amazon of them; whether or not they actually do anything about them remains to be seen, but the little pedantic bit of me likes being able to do that.

The last time I read Dracula was before I went to Whitby, so I had the story in my mind when I visited. This time I read it with the images of the Abbey and St. Mary’s church in my mind, and it made it quite spooky. I don’t think that I really appreciated what a spooky book it can be when I read it the last time. At one point I was staying up far too late reading and I really creeped myself out, reading about the boat coming into Whitby harbour with the dead man lashed to the wheel and a big black dog running through the town.

When I finally managed to coax myself out of bed I shivered past the framed Victorian newsclipping that hangs on the wall by the stairs (a beautiful picture of Whitby Abbey and some men in a graveyard) and made it to the bathroom. I’d barely been in there a minute when my own big black dog burst into the room and nearly gave me a heart attack. Talk about bringing fiction to life!

As he spoke he smiled, and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s “Lenore”.
“Denn die Todten reiten Schenll.” (“For the dead travel fast.”)
Page 9

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