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Hours of DevotionI try to keep my Kindle spending to $10 or less per book—partly for budgetary reasons, and partly because I find most e-books so error-filled that I resent paying so much money just to copy-edit them myself.

When I wrote about the errors in JK Rowling’s new hardback-priced bestseller, I made the point that if publishers want to make the argument that e-books are worth full retail paper price, they need to put out a product that merits that price. My experience in the last year or two has been that they are not putting out such a product. But every so often, a book comes along that feels worth breaking my price point on. It happened this week. I gambled on a pricey book—and I lost.

Authored by Dinah Berland, the book is called Hours of Devotion, and it’s a translation of a German devotional that was allegedly the first full-length book of prayers for Jewish women, which was written by a woman. As the over-long, over-dull synagogue services of my parents’ synagogue become less sustainable for me, literature has been my way into a more meaningful exploration of my faith. Much great material remains out of print and unavailable; Berland submits that her translation is the first to appear in half a century. I did find a fragment of this work at the Internet Archive, but its formatting was atrocious, and my research suggested that the translation which was available in the public domain was inaccurate and took some liberties.

So, I bit—for $18.42, which for me is a fortune for an e-book. And wow, what a mess! I have returned other e-books before—to Kobo—but this was the first e-book I’ve ever returned to Amazon. I can’t even count the errors—they were that numerous. On the formatting front, lines were randomly italicized; others didn’t break where they should have (the translation was rendered into poetic stanzas, and you can tell where the lines should break because of the capital letters); some chapters had no line breaks at all and simply ran together. And the typos! ‘Adonai,’ a name for God, was rendered variously as Adona1, Adonal, Adona; and so on, in every permutation you could think of. Other notable typos included Gqd for God and be-lieve for believe.

What makes it all the more heart-breaking is that I perused the author’s website in search of a contact email so that I could tip her off about what happened, and I found this:

Dinah Berland

Dinah Berland

“In her moving introduction, Dinah Berland describes her serendipitous discovery of Hours of Devotion in a Los Angeles used-book store, It was a time of painful estrangement from her son, and the prayers she found in the slim volume provided immediate comfort. Eventually, they would also lead her back to Jewish study and to a deeper practice of Judaism.”

How sad is that? The author poured her heart and soul into this book—indeed, it was a spiritual journey for her—and it’s being spoiled, all for the lack of a cursory proof-read? If the author could only see how dreadful this looked on my Kindle …

Well, at least I can order the book in paper, right? Oops, no. Apparently, Amazon can’t ship this book to my default shipping address. So it’s the Kindle version—badly mangled, at $18.50—or nothing. It’s such a shame. A Kindle edition, properly done, would have been worth $18.50 to me. There simply aren’t too many books like this available. If they had done this properly, they could have both earned their author a profit and opened up a long-lost genre to a new audience. Instead … disappointment. For everyone. Well-played, Random House Digital!


UPDATE: I finally heard back from the author. She was on vacation out of the country when this story went up. The short version was, she is very sorry, can’t imagine what happened and suggests I write Amazon for a refund.  (October 31, 2012)

Um … that’s it? I would have rather had a corrected book!

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