Sunday, 20 October 2013

Julia Bride

                                              

-Brian Mendonça

When I was hunting around for a manageable text for students of American Studies to read, I drew a blank. The library had weighty volumes of rather jaded-looking tomes which would be unlikely to interest the students – at least the swish set. There were loads of Hemingway but why was he always writing about Spain or the sea? Of course there was a lot of the musty and dusty on the shelves but would that do?

YA (young adults) seem less motivated to read today. Libraries are bare spaces where tables yawn. Take-home assignments usually reproduce material cut-and-pasted from the internet (often without an acknowledgement).

Though I had initially thought I’d choose the novel form, I jettisoned the idea as there would be no time to read and appreciate its length. Help was near at hand – at Londa station – when I popped into the ubiquitous bookstall on the platform. I emerged with a collection of stories by Henry James. Henry James? -- the turn of the century American novelist? What was he doing here!

After flipping through the stories – mainly the titles – there remained no doubt about what I would choose. ‘Julia Bride’ published in 1908 was the story of a beautiful American woman previously engaged six times but not proposed to as yet. The short story was about her efforts to find a suitable husband. Perfect for my class. But how do I share one copy for sixteen students? That too of a primary source which was written more than a hundred years ago?

Forays on the internet revealed a web edition of the book uploaded by the University of Adelaide, South Australia.* Access was made possible by the Creative Commons Licence by which one may ‘copy, distribute, display and perform the work’ for non-commercial use, provided one attributes the source. I was also marveling at the currency of twentieth-century American fiction in South Australia and the global reach of literature.

I simply made this link available to my students and they were on easy street. Or so I thought. Post the week-long Ganesh break I realized no one had dipped into the link. Blank faces greeted me at class -- which is why before the semester-end exams descend on them I hope to make available some photocopies of the story. Full circle?

I must add that I enjoyed the ebook more than the printed version. The immersion into the experience was more complete I thought and the crisp text in its immaculate font scrolling like there was no tomorrow, made one feel reading was the way to be hip.

Publishers converged on Goa for a conference on publishing titled Publishing Next from 20-21 September 2013. Close on the heels of this conference was a seminar hosted by the University of Poona, Pune on ‘The Journey of the Book: From Manuscript to Digital’ from 23-25 September 2013. The future of the book is very much a topic for debate.

*eBooks@Adelaide
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Published with the title 'A Short Story of Publishing Today' in Gomantak Times, Weekender, Goa, on Sunday 22 September, 2013; Image source: mantex.co(dot)uk, the Metropolitan Museum.

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