What’s a ‘real’ book?

In light of the  the digital advances that are currently taking our breath away, any self-respecting book lover has to have considered the question of what constitutes a real book.  It used to be easy to answer: a book is that ‘thing’ you hold in your hands that has pages bound between two covers.  Maybe we were wrong.  Maybe a book is just what the writer writes and what the reader reads.  But if that’s true, then a digitally distributed haiku qualifies as a book.  Or is there a length rule?  If a piece of digital writing is a certain length, maybe then it’s a book.

Most of my books have been made available by the publishers as e-books these days.   When I say that, I mean that the books were originally published as pages bound between two covers.  But when I’m writing a book, that book resides on my computer’s hard drive.  When I put the finishing touches on the electronic file, is it a book yet?

So many questions; so many opinions.  If you haven’t seen this new video yet, you might like to take a look at their answer to the question and then join the discussion.  (By the way, it’s done with stop-motion not animation.  The producers went into the bookstore from 6 pm to 10 am for five nights and moved books and things.  Quite a job!).

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7 Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to your readers’ comments. The comments under the YouTube video are illustrative of the passionate perspectives people have about the issue.

  2. I’ve felt there is so much doom and gloom among book industry types lately. Certainly, the pressures facing independent bookstores are enormous, and the difficulties writers and traditional book publishers have making a decent income are concerning. However, the new opportunities that e-publishing and self-publishing offer are at the same time exciting, and I hope people can find enthusiasm and excitement in a time of uncertainty. (I love this video. It reminds me of Toy Story when all the toys come to life after the humans have gone to sleep.)

    1. Alison, I’ve been wondering if the doom and gloom are really a function of the fear of change — or perhaps publishers need issues managers. That way, the most savvy would be ahead of the curve and dealing proacively with the profound and inevitable changes that are coming (and already here)in the publishing industry.

      1. Yes, I think a large part of it is resistance to change. Coincidentally, I just listened to an episode of Spark that addresses changes in publishing (in the context of new information ecosystems the Internet provides.) David Weinberger says printed books are starting to feel like broken web pages because we can’t click on the links. And he circles around your questionsof “What is a real book?” I don’t think that’s answerable just now, but his insights nonetheless seem relevant: http://www.cbc.ca/spark/2012/01/spark-167-january-8-11-2012/

  3. Thank-you for this, Alison. I’m thinking about that notion of being able to click on links — this is what takes us away from a story. I’ve been thinking lately about enhanced e-books for some of my non-fiction writing. But I think that being able to click away from a piece of fiction is more of a problem than and advantage.

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