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Old 08-26-2009, 03:07 PM   #1
readingaloud
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Missing section breaks

After listening to a lecture on Alice Munro's "Runaway", I was pleased to find the book available in a Kindle edition at a reasonable price. So I bought it, and read the story. But something was missing.

The lecturer made a point of commenting on the "chapters" in Runaway--apparently the printed text of the long story is divided into 21 short sections, separated from each other by a bit of white space on the printed page. Paying attention to these section breaks is, in the opinion of the professor, important to understanding the structure of the story.

Well, in the Kindle edition, the breaks simply aren't there.

As I thought about it, I don't remember seeing this kind of section break in any of the eBooks I've read, on any platform, except in the books I've created myself. Not all texts use this kind of break, but they're reasonably common feature in printed books. The absence of such breaks is not something you'd notice unless you had a printed text to compare. It seems likely that this isn't just a problem with the eBook edition of Runaway, but with many eBooks on many platforms.

Looking at Runaway, knowing that the section breaks are missing, I can see how this makes the story much harder to read. Some of the missing section breaks would have alerted me to some important shift, as when the narrator shifts locations, or shifts the point of view from one character to another. Other breaks were probably in places I wouldn't guess. In either case, I'm missing a typographical clue that the author intended me to have.

(Think of how much more difficult this note would be to read if the the Mobile Read software suppressed the white space I've used to separate my paragraphs--we're all has experience, I suspect, with systems that mangle our messages in this way, and I, for one, try to avoid them.)

If I hadn't known that there were once breaks, I'd have been likely to conclude that Munro had just been a bit sloppy. But it wasn't Munro who was sloppy--it was whoever converted the book in such a way as to remove them. Perhaps the problem, though, is not that the breaks were carelessly removed, but that they were algorithmically removed by the conversion software. If that's the case, it's not just sloppiness we're talking about, it's gross negligence.

I think it should be considered a violation of the author's moral right to remove from a text any important structural element. We need to let Amazon and other content providers know that this is NOT OK.
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Old 08-27-2009, 01:49 PM   #2
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Sometimes the white space is lost when removing extra lines between paragraphs or converting from one format to another.
Maybe it would be better to replace the section breaks using the extra blank lines with centered asterisks or some other graphic.
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