E-books can be a strange, parochial beast. As any Kindle-user will know, the content of the Kindle store often varies wildly in terms of design and reading experience. Classics suffer especially
from this. A lot of out-of-copyright classics have been digitized by volunteers and are available free, but devoid of any notes, substantial chapter headings and basic page formatting. Even worse,
output from some of the big publishing houses proves little better. Pages are inadequately formatted, the type isn’t adjustable; and infuriating gaps exist between paragraphs, while the font
often renders sentences unintelligible.
But there are some saints among the throng of sinners. Scouting around for my fill of Dickens recently on the Kindle store, I stumbled across Delphi
Classics, an e-book only outfit that specializes in public domain content. A sample confirmed that the design was immaculate, the paragraph breaks cleanly formatted and a nice selection of
illustrations to accompany the tales — the reading experience box ticked, then. But that’s the least of it.
Having bought the e-book — a bargain at £2.14 — the full range of the contents page unfurled itself. Bookshops burst at the moment with numerous editions of Great
Expectations and Bleak House. But when was the last time you saw an edition of ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk’, Dickens’s first published short story? We are all familiar
with A Christmas Carol, but I hadn’t appreciated the full extent of Dickens’s Christmas writing. Here, under a section entitled ‘The Christmas Novellas’ lurked:
The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain — and that’s not to mention the
eleven ‘Christmas Short Stories’. There is even a ‘Collaborative Works’ section and ‘The Plays’, and then we are on to the ‘Non-Fiction’, including
The Complete Speeches and The Complete Letters. What would run to thousands of pages in print — as did the commendable Wordsworth editions that Delphi is, in part, emulating — has an
invisible footprint in e-book form.
It is here then that the revolutionary opportunities of the Kindle and e-books become apparent. Ordinary print publishers largely ignore the non-fiction, plays, poetry and collaborative work of
major writers like Dickens because they are not financially viable. But e-books offer a unique opportunity, at much lower cost, to bring these long-forgotten works back into the public sphere.
Delphi has also compiled a new volume of Thackeray’s work (much of which hasn’t been seen for yonks), as well as work by Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth Gaskell and many more. If you want a full
taste of Dickens for the upcoming bicentenary, you can get your edition from "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Charles-Dickens-Illustrated-ebook/dp/B004RZGUBM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324495156&sr=8-1">Amazon; and for afters, try the charming new
Dickensiana Volume 1 (offshoots and reminiscences from the work and life of the great man), available "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dickensiana-I-Charles-Dickens-ebook/dp/B006LSDKAW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324550449&sr=8-1">here.