In yesterday’s article, Smelling of Pencils, the comments discussion turned — as it always does — away from the main core of the argument of the article and into another realm. We shared a brief discussion about books and that conversation led me back into wondering about books and publishing and what makes up the essence of a book: The Author, the Reader, the Publisher? The book itself? The process of it all? What is a book nowadays anyway?
I like to hold a book in my hands. I like to feel its weight. I like owning a book and not renting the rights to a book. I like a book made of paper so I can write my counter-thoughts right next to what I’m reading on the page. I dog-ear pages. I fold pages into other pages. A book is not for cherishing or shelf-sitting. A book’s binding is built to be broken. A book is a tool used to crank up your mind and its capability for imagining: Yesterday, I said:
I urge my students to buy their books and never sell them. “Your books are your friends,” I tell them, “and you don’t sell your friends.” If they complain they cannot afford to buy their books, then I tell them, “You can’t afford to take this class, because the only way you’ll pass this class is by making your books your best friends so you can share secrets and learn from each other and get through the ideas this class requires you to digest and dissect.”
Today, I wonder if my notion of books as friends is too quaint in our current fast-moving and ethereal world of disconnected thoughts and itinerant people? Can a book be a PDF file? Can a PDF file claiming to be a book be a book if you only read it on your computer? Is a PDF file a book only if you print out the PDF file on paper?
Does a book demand a “third editorial eye” beyond the author to make it a book? Does a book suggest a process of thought that begins with the author and is filtered through other active minds before touching the eye of the reader end user? Is it inappropriate for me to call a reader an “end user” — or is that what all readers are now in our virtual world: The end of the line in the call of thought-sharing? Is an electronic book a book? If an e-book is a book, why don’t we just call it a “book” instead of qualifying an e-book as a book when we know an e-book isn’t any sort of book at all?
Is the idea of the book dead? Is a book really just another word for “discussion” in our current realm of thinking? Have blogs and their comments areas become books written in real time to be shared forever with eternity as timepieces marking instant moments in cultural values and believing in each other? Can email ever replace the handwritten letter? We know email isn’t a letter because we call it “email” and not a letter.
When you buy a book, are you buying the words and the wonderings of the author or are you only paying for the convenience of packaging, printing, binding and distribution costs? If the essence of a book is only an enticing and unique ordering of words, should you be paying for what you’re reading here right now?