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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


NEHS: The PDF of Dorian Gray

As we begin the second year of the "What Dreams May Come" chapter of the National English Honor Society, we've decided to embark upon an experiment.

Display of the text of a cell phone novel, from the Florida Reading Assoc.With all the buzz around the Amazon Kindle, Sony's competing e-Reader, and the rumors of a Google downloadable book system that will be comparable to iTunes, electronic books are a high-investment venture. The cost of producing a book for a screen pales in comparison to the cost of printing thousands of copies of a book on paper, and if we can drive the cost of books down, some say, more people would buy them and more people would read. Movers will tell you that some of the heaviest material to cart in or out of a person's house are boxes of books. Books are dense, inconvenient, expensive, and environmentally debatable. A system of electronic books could address many of these issues... if people would adopt said system, and if the electronic-book readers were not priced so prohibitively.

Japan has discovered an interesting way to deal with this last issue: keitai shousetsu are novels that are written to be read on — and are frequently composed on — cell phones. Granted, much of Tokyo's popular culture is cell phone-based, and their phones are correspondingly more technologically awesome than our own, but people embrace the idea that that little screen is a place where people can read... we read text messages on them, why not pages of a book? In fact, five out of the top ten Japanese best-selling novels in 2007 were first written on a cell phone, and then translated into book form once they had reached a commercial level of popularity.

(Of course, that does show that even the Japanese are still wrestling with the issue, as the best-sellers were established as such in paper, and not simply on screen. Still, it has gone a long way toward legitimatizing the form.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin edition The book that the Belmont High School chapter of NEHS has chosen to read, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, has been in the public domain for almost twenty years. Written in 1890, copyright laws currently allow for reproductions of the book to be made without license and to be distributed without compensation to the writer or his estate. And there are plenty of versions of the text to be found online. While in the past, the library has provided sufficient number of copies for all the members of NEHS (the much maligned Neuromancer, for example), we have chosen instead to merely make participants aware of the multiplicity of free, legal ways in which they could acquire the text. And as area libraries don't have copious numbers of copies, we hope that people will take the risk of seeing what reading an entire book can be like on a phone, or an iPod, or a computer screen... We are as much interested in talking about that experience as we are talking about the book itself.

A MS-Word 2003 document containing links to the available free and cheap options for getting one version of Dorian Gray or another, can be found here.

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