Kathryn asks a question about the Future of the Book:
As book publishing evolves to encompass more non-linear, multimedia and interactive material, do we need to start calling them something else? Is book enough?
Despite the growing popularity of ebooks, I suspect that for most of us, when we use the word book, we are still thinking of something very specific: a paper-bound object that can be held in the hand, and that we read. (We still have a need to distinguish ebooks from paper books. Some people call paper books real books. Even in electronic format, the word “ebook” still recognisably retains the book element.)
This paper object has a particular form – a front and back cover, and pages of paper, with words, pictures, diagrams, maps, printed on the pages. Books can come in all sizes, but we generally understand books to have standard sizes, so that we know roughly how big a “standard” paperback is, as opposed to a trade paperback, as opposed to a hardback, and books outside these sizes are either small or large.
Of necessity books have been linear – even with books that you can dip in and out of, there is a first and a last page – and pretty much the only thing you can do with them is look at their pages, with no interaction beyond reading the words or looking at any images. They are a technology of their time. There’s no reason they have to stay like this, now that we have different technologies. But as to how they will evolve, I really couldn’t say.
The physical aspect is just one aspect of the book. I don’t think I can do justice to another aspect of the book: the fact that books in their paper form have been a part of our culture(s) for so long that they are ingrained, and we love them and they are so much a part of our consciousness. Think: literature, poetry. Think: Shakespeare, the books of the world religions, Proust, Tolstoy, Dickens, all the books of your childhood and that you enjoy now… Their impact on language and culture is immeasurable.
In her Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson says:
Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home – they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space. (97.3)*
What else can I say about books?
We read them for pleasure, and to learn.
Jeanette Winterson again:
Reading things that are relevant to the facts of your life is of limited value. The facts are, after all, only the facts, and the yearning passionate part of you will not be met there. That is why reading ourselves as a fiction as well as fact is so liberating. The wider we read the freer we become. Emily Dickinson barely left her homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, but when we read, ‘My life stood – a loaded gun’ we know we have met an imagination that will detonate life, not decorate it. (176.6)
Books have always been powerful, and will continue to be powerful. Surely the word book is enough.
Kathryn, do you care to give me your take on this question? As book publishing evolves to encompass more non-linear, multimedia and interactive material, do we need to start calling them something else? Is book enough?
* My odd page notation is due to the fact that I have been reading an electronic version of Jeanette Winterson’s superb memoir.