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Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness (review)
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Reviews 223 Brian Boyd. Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness (second edition). Christchurch, N.Z.: Cybereditions, 2001. 353 pp. Available as a paperback or an Adobe eBook. ISBN 1877275301 (book); 187727528X (eBook). Review by Mary Bellino, South Hadley, Massachusetts The publication of the second edition oÃ- Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness qualifies as a landmark occasion on two counts: it makes available an updated and expanded version of an indispensable study of Ada that is also a fine general introduction to Nabokov's fictional techniques, and it is a pioneering example of a new method of book production that may well become the standard in scholarly publishing. I will deal first with the issue of electronic and print-on-demand publication, as it has broad implications for anyone whose career may be affected by the perilous state of academic publishing, from the established scholar to the fledgling Ph.D. In the traditional method of book publishing, a certain number of copies are printed and bound, and a certain—often much smaller—number of these are actually sold. The production process is time-consuming; even though most academic presses have eliminated what used to be called the "galley" stage and now go directly from copyedited manuscript to page proof, it still takes from one to three years to turn a manuscript into a printed book. At the same time, presses have shifted more and more of the responsibility for turning out a competent product onto the author, who is now expected to do—or hire someone to do—his own editing (of the substantive kind, as well as wrangling with a copyeditor who may have little or no knowledge of the book's subject), proofreading (which some presses now leave entirely to the author, with no second check by a professional), and indexing. In some cases he is asked to code the manuscript for the printer's typesetting machine; in others, he must actually produce the typeset pages as cameraready copy, and these are photographed to make the offset plates used to print the book. As a freelance editor and typesetter I have reaped a modest profit from this trend, but I nonetheless deplore it as an unconscionable waste of everyone's time, mine included. Time spent calculating sinkage and designing running heads is time that could be better spent rereading Nabokov or catching up on the latest scholarship. Now the great benefit of the traditional method should be that once all of this work is done and the printing plates prepared, the book becomes a ktema es aie (a phrase from Thucydides, meaning "a possession that lasts forever"): if the edition sells out, the book can easily be reprinted from the existing plates. That is the theory; in practice, however, a large percentage of scholarly books disappear without a trace after the first printing. The publisher's argument is that he already has enough unsold volumes in his warehouse 224 Nabokov Studies without adding to the pile at a time when libraries and consumers alike are cutting back on book purchases, and to a certain extent he is right. Moreover, the trend in scholarly publishing has been away from the traditional monograph and toward the multiauthor encyclopedia, companion, or guide, a big reference book on a big topic—such as the Victorian novel—that libraries will almost certainly purchase and that may even have some spillover sales in the student and general-reader markets. The contributors to these volumes are most often senior scholars with well-established reputations. Younger folk, meanwhile, are turning to the edited coUection as a means of getting a first book out. A collection might sell slightly better than a revised dissertation, and the neophyte editor is often able to secure contributions from one or two well-known scholars—perhaps the editor's grad-school mentors—who will add a modest cachet to the whole operation. AU is well, then, until the aspiring assistant professor finds it necessary to get a monograph published in order to be considered for tenure, having been informed of this necessity by a department head who is wondering herself whether she is ever going to find a publisher...