I’m fascinated by this discussion about books and what actually constitutes a book. There is quite a bit going on in these posts – and the discussion has changed focus during the ensuing conversation. Iris Jastram from Pegasus Librarian summarizes the discussion with the following: “Over at See Also, Steve and Dave* are hashing out whether a book is a book if it’s not printed on paper.” Both posts and the accompanying comments are worth reading. But what really caught my eye was a sentence in a comment left on Lawson’s post from Mark Lindner – “A book is not the contents at all; it is a specific form of container.” This is a response to David Lee King’s contribution that “The content in a book – the actual words… that’s the book.”
Hhmm . . . I guess last week I wouldn’t really have thought too much about the concept of a book. The notion means something specific to me – I understand my own conception of a book. But, it is obvious from this discussion that people have different ideas about what constitutes a book. In this discussion, my thoughts about books are much closer to David Lee King’s than to Mark Lindner’s. The word book, I believe, has come to mean much more than just the packaging. I read a book because of its content, not because of its format. I admit to prefering paper books for pleasure reading. However, I’m all for ebooks especially for things like textbooks and for shorter works. Last semester, I purchased one of my textbooks in ebook format, and I would do so again in a heartbeat. I refer to that electronic copy as a book. I think of it as a book. Its format is actually irrelevant to me. I have purchased several shorter length text in electronic format over the past several months. I still call them books – and have been surprised to find that it isn’t all that unfulfillling to read them on a computer screen.
One of the reasons for Lindner’s belief about books has to do with language and our use of it. I understand where he is coming from on this (and I’m not trying to add to his angst). I do agree with his assertion that book is not a content word. Books are books regardless of their content. However, the word book has become symbolic of a bigger reading experience – at least it has to me. The thought of books can evoke feelings – both good and bad. This isn’t unprecedented because words can often mean much more to people than what their definitions suggest they ought to mean. Language and its use is incredibly complex. It is dynamic – and connotation, implication, emphasis all change language dramatically.
I think this is a very complicated topic – and I doubt that everyone will agree with one another. But to me, a book isn’t always just a book. It’s meaning is in the eye of the beholder or rather the holder.