Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Friendship of Christ

In June, Amy Welborn quoted a passage from Robert Hugh Benson's The Friendship of Christ that was so compelling, I started reading the book through her link to the full text in the Notre Dame archives. The experience was both sublime and frustrating: sublime because Benson's text is a spiritual treasure, and frustrating because the particular version I was reading was a clearly a computer scan of the book, and so had odd typos and poor formatting.

And yet the text was wonderfully rich. Erin of Bearing Blog suggested to me that we might host a reading club to discuss the book, and I thought it a marvelous idea. So I went to Amazon and bought the recommended paperback copy, only $4.99. And that was my mistake, because it was the sort of book that gives print-on-demand a bad name -- ugly, cheap, and on top of that, it was nothing more than the same bad computer scan as the Notre Dame document.  Same typos, same quirks of formatting. No one had put any thought into editing the text, making it visually appealing, or providing a suitable cover. 

One thing to understand about Kindle Direct Print, Amazon's print-on-demand program, is that it requires no upfront costs. Amazon charges the cost of making the book, and the remaining profit is split 60/40 between you and Amazon. This makes it easy for anyone to create a new edition of an out-of-copyright work, with the result that if you search Pride and Prejudice you will be inundated with bad reprints with text crammed to the margins. It's hard to find a real book unless you search for an Everyman edition or a Penguin Classic. Unfortunately, The Friendship of Christ isn't available from those reputable publishers, or, as far as I could tell, from any of the established Catholic presses.

First I was mad, and then I was thoughtful. Monsignor Benson wrote this book in 1912. Clearly it was in the public domain. I had a spanking new layout program for self-publishing, and I was itching to put it through its paces. And the 1912 edition itself is available to consult at Google Books, meaning I could check Monsignor Benson's original punctuation, spelling, and scripture citations. Why, then, should I not try my hand at putting together a fitting edition of this book?


(Cover design courtesy of Darwin.)

From my foreword:

The text has been proofed against the original publication, preserving Monsignor Benson’s punctuation and anglicisms. The scripture citations of the original text have been checked for accuracy and modernized (e.g., “John xx: 17” has been altered to “John 20:17”). The titles of books of Scripture and the numbering of the Psalms from the Douai-Rheims Bible have also been updated. “Wash me yet more from my iniquity.—Ps. l. 4”, perfectly clear to Monsignor Benson’s contemporaries as “Psalm 50:4”, a quotation from David’s great penitential psalm, is given in this volume as “Ps. 51:4” according to the  numbering of the Psalms familiar to modern readers. (Some computer scans of The Friendship of Christ, not recognizing the lower-case italicized Roman numeral l, have rendered this verse as Ps. 1:4—Not so the wicked, not so!)

As we learn more about self publishing, a key lesson is, "Allow more time." My copy arrived today, and already I've found a few typos -- mostly en dashes in strange places that stubbornly evaded my searches and readings. However, the very nature of print on demand means that I can fix typos and upload a new manuscript almost instantly, so after one day the book is already in its second edition. 

Erin and I will be hosting a reading of The Friendship of Christ beginning in January, just six months after she first suggested it. I'm very sorry for the delay, but on the other hand the physical act of reading the book will no longer be penitential. You're all invited to join in and read -- and pray -- along with us.

As I said, Amazon is clogged with cheap reprints, but here are the links that will take you directly to our editions. (The Look Inside feature will not show you our book, but see above photos.)




Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I will look forward to reading the book and, if circumstances allow, the January group read.

re: the problems with the Look Inside feature. I have noticed for some books that when you click "Look Inside," there will be a notice that what it is showing is the Kindle version because the "Look Inside" for the hard copy is not available. Is it possible that it's a work around that would allow people to see your formatted edition when they are on the paperback's page?

Antoinette said...

I look forward to reading the book. Joining the group read will make me responsible to read the book.

Donna said...

How does one join the reading group?

MrsDarwin said...

Donna, Bearing Blog and I will be putting up posts about the chapters, and linking to each other, so anyone can jump in in the comments, or just read along. We'll also probably have a Facebook group where we share each post, and I'll link to that here when we get that going. We'll kick things off in the first week of January.