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My Favorite Literary Feud of 2012: Tolstoy Gets Nook’ed

By Dennis Abrams

A recent post on the New Yorker’s book blog, Page-Turner listed the top twelve literary feuds of the past year. One, in particular, caught my attention.

Leo Tolstoy had no idea what a Nook was, and yet...

It seems that a company called Superior Formatting Publishing offered a 99-cent version of the now in the public domain Russian classic, War and Peace, through Barnes and Noble’s Nook store — the lowest price edition to be found there. But then a blogger for the Oranoke Island Journal named Phillip discovered something in that edition that Tolstoy would never have dreamed of.

“As I was reading, I came across this sentence: ‘It was if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern…’ Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text.

For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: ‘It was if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern…’”

It seems that in this Nook version of War and Peace, every instance of the words “kindle” or “kindled” had been replaced with “Nook” and “Nookd.” The Superior Formatting Publishing version isn’t a Barnes & Noble book, so despite immediate suspicions by avid conspiracy theorists that it was a work of fiendishly clever sabotage done by an overly enthusiastic Nook marketer, it turned out to be a simple matter of “find and replace” gone awry, as the formal apology from Superior Formatting explained:

“This happened because all of our titles were originally published on the Amazon Kindle platform first, and the titles formerly had a small paragraph of text describing our works at the beginning of the book. This paragraph had the word Kindle in it several times. When Barnes and Noble released their publishing platform we were obviously excited to offer our books there as well. A Find and Replace was done on the introductory paragraph to replace the word Kindle with Nook (along with some other formatting modifications specific to the Nook editions). On this particular title there was obviously a mistake in which the process was carried out on the entire work, instead of just the intro text.”

Even so, as Kendra Albert points out on the site The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, “The unwitting hilarity of a publisher doing a ‘find and replace’ and accidentally changing the text of a canonical work of Western thought is alarming. Many versions of e-books are from similar outfits, that distribute public domain works formatted for Kindle or Nook at the lowest possible prices. The great democratizing factor of the eBook formats — that anyone can easily distribute — can also mean that readers can never be quite sure that they are viewing the texts as the author intended.”

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2 Comments

  1. Sandy Thatcher
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    So, why would anyone buy “War and Peace” when it is freely available for download through the Apple store from Project Gutenberg? It was the first book I downloaded for my iPad.

  2. Dave
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    “… readers can never be quite sure that they are viewing the texts as the author intended.”

    Particularly when the original was in Russian and the translator may be unknown and long dead…There are many sources of “contamination” in a book like this, some dating back many decades.

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