Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: E-books can be a
fertile field for annotations via TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home by
Richard Herley on 10/16/08
I’m re-reading Walden on paper, in the OUP “World’s Classics” edition.
The editor, Stephen Fender, has provided copious notes, tagged in the
text with scores of asterisks. Some of these notes are very
interesting; others less so. A few are even, to an experienced reader,
a bit insulting. I don’t need to be told: “Spartan-like: the ancient
Spartans were noted for their simplicity, frugality, and
self-discipline”. Nor do I need alerting to the fact that Hercules was
set twelve labors to perform, nor am I ignorant of the meaning of the
word “slough”: and I had already twigged that it might refer in its
context to the Slough of Despond in Pilgrim’s Progress. And so on.

Some readers will be glad of such notes. For me, they are useless
interruptions. Because I don’t know what any particular asterisk is
for, each time I encounter one I cannot forbear from turning to the
back of the book. After a couple of hundred pages of this, I am
somewhat ill disposed towards OUP’s editorial policy.

E-books can offer a perfect solution. Such notes could be hyperlinked,
and each link graded. Beginning readers could leave them all visible;
middling readers like me could hide the elementary ones; and academics
could hide all but the most advanced. Or indeed, if the text were being
re-read, they could all be hidden, and made visible only when the word
or phrase was touched with a finger or stylus.

Onboard reference works like dictionaries and encyclopedias could also
be enlisted. And with wireless access to the net, of course, the
potential is limitless.

Penguin’s Enriched E-book series is a great first step on the road to
realizing the potential of E. But that’s all it is – a first step, and
there’s a long, long way to go.

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