Borrowing e-books from the library

I’m currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I borrowed the e-book from the Québec National Library. Just the process of borrowing an e-book has been fascinating. When an e-book is borrowed from the library, it is no longer available for other users to borrow, because the library uses a particular kind of DRM software.

This is interesting to me because traditional borrowing of library books had the “scarcity” of the books (and thus the protection of the author/publisher’s rights) built-in to the “hardware” itself. That is to say, by the nature of the physical book itself, two people could not be borrowing it from the library at the same time.

This is manifestly not true of digital materials. Much to the chagrin of publishers of all types, it’s difficult to stop people from sharing media if it’s digital, and in fact it takes a good deal of effort to stop people from doing so, while still allowing for legitimate uses of the media in question.

I’m 67% of the way through, and I’ve come across a couple typos. Nothing major—nothing that changes the content of the book, or even makes it much more difficult to read. I don’t know why, but I can’t resist keeping a record of when I find typos.

  • “It isn’t the sort ofthing you ask questions about …” p. 29
  • “I press my hands against the sides of my thighs, breath in, set out along the hall …” p. 142

Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines here, but when I saw these typos, I started thinking about maps. Stay with me, here. I don’t know if it’s actually true, but it used to be said that map-makers would put fake streets—small ones that no one would notice—into their maps, so that if someone copied their work, they would know that it was copied.

I’m sure it’s possible to find software that will strip an e-book of its DRM, and so I wonder if these typos are like that—little “fake streets” that the publisher has inserted into the e-book, so that if it’s copied, they’ll know. If they were sophisticated about it, they could probably even make up a way of encoding which library and even which user stripped the DRM by inserting particular “typos” into the borrowed e-book.

So here’s my question for all you Margaret Atwood fans out there: Does anyone have a physical copy of The Handmaid’s Tale? If you do, can you tell me if the typos are there in your copy? Also, does anyone else feel like borrowing the e-book from the library to see if the typos are there (or in the same place)?

Side-note: How long before we drop the hyphen from “e-book” and “e-reader” the way we dropped the hyphen from e-mail?

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

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