Monday, September 2, 2013

Why I Require the Kindle Edition of Milton

The edition of Milton's work I've selected for my students to use is The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton (edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, Stephen M. Fallon; Modern Library edition, 2009).  Follow this link to Amazon where you can buy this for about $25.

Why pay for it?
Why buy an edition of Milton when all  his writings are available online for free? Some of those online editions are very well done, like those found in The John Milton Reading Room at Dartmouth. Besides, Milton's works are readily borrowed freely from libraries.

Milton was all about liberty, and I think he would be pleased to have his works available for free. But he was also concerned with the quality of his publications. A good edition is trustworthy. It has been established from reliable sources, and in this case, the spelling has been modernized. And of course a good scholarly edition of a literary text includes an introduction, explanatory notes, and a bibliography. It also helps to have a common edition when studying with others.

Why an ebook version?
This edition has a paper version. Why require the ebook version? Shouldn't students feel comfortable obtaining a text in the medium of their choice? 

No matter how familiar the paper book is, ebooks are the future of education and we need to begin getting used to them (even as they evolve). Of course ebooks have disadvantages, and I will doubtless refer back to my familiar paper versions of Milton from time to time. But there are many advantages to reading with an ebook, especially when reading an author with a vocabulary like Milton's! Using a Kindle or Kindle app one can quickly look up the definitions of words, search within the text, and also follow hyperlinks to various notes (in this edition). 

Why a Kindle edition?
Why a Kindle ebook? Who says I have to use Amazon's ebooks? What if I don't want to buy or use a Kindle reader?

Right now the book as a format is being reinvented. Whatever the future holds, we can be fairly certain that the reading experience is going to be more social. We are now in the habit of sharing all kinds of things about our lives via Facebook and other social media. Sharing what we are reading is so natural that ebooks, ebook apps, and ebook devices are now including ways to socialize one's reading.

Another important feature about electronic books is that they are not dependent upon physical format; they live in and are synced to "the cloud," and therefore cannot get lost. This is true also for the notes and highlighting that we do. If you use the right kind of ebook or ebook reader, all of your notes are kept safe online and can be accessed from anywhere or transferred to another device at any time.

One can mark up a Kindle ebook in such a way that one's notes and highlights are not lost, carry across different devices, and can even be collected in one place for your own reference or for others. As a matter of fact, when reading the ebook you have access to popular highlights (which is an imperfect but useful way of focusing in on key parts of a text). You can also share your notes and highlights publicly and on social media if you choose.

One need not own a Kindle device in order to buy and read Kindle ebooks from Amazon. As explained here, you can read any Kindle book online via the Kindle Cloud Reader, or on a smartphone or tablet computer with a free Kindle app. (Personally, I do not own a Kindle device. However, I read my Kindle books from my smartphone, my iPad, and on Kindle's Cloud Reader from my desktop computers at home or work.)

Why spend so much attention on the format of a book?
Literary study has always included examining the way that form influences content. And while there is a learning curve and some inconvenience with a new and imperfect medium for reading, learning this kind of digital literacy will maximize how we as readers can enjoy reading and studying literature. In a few short years we will all look with some suspicion at people who isolate their reading and put at risk their thoughts by keeping them in the socially limited and precarious format of wood pulp.

Milton mastered the medium of his day. We are going to do the same with the new medium in ours, and using the electronic form of his works will help us get there.

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