Sunday, 5 September 2010

What is a book?

Arrrrgh. I'm really interested in all this eBook stuff but so much incredible rubbish is written about it, like this really stupid Guardian article. It's not a matter of the Kindle versus the Book! Dracula on a Kindle is still a book! The Kindle is a good thing for books and the book-industry because it gives people extra ways of reading them. I take a lot of books with me when I travel -- if I'm going alone then at least one a day. If I take a Kindle instead would this make me anti-book? Would it signal the end of the book? Will Self, who annoys me even though his books are pretty much all brilliant, talks in the same terms, or at least is quoted in those terms, in that article. But Will Self, who makes money through writing, should be saying hurray that there is a now a new way to sell his stuff to readers, and what's more sell another copy to someone like me who might suddenly want to reread Great Apes and be unable to find my paperback copy which may have gone to Oxfam anyway, I can't remember.
(PUBLIC INFORMATION ANNOUNCEMENT: do not ever read Will Self's My Idea of Fun. It's an excellent book but it's grimmer than American Psycho.)

Anyway it makes me very annoyed. If they come up with a format for books where trained monkeys whisper the chapters into your ears at twilight Frankenstein will still be Frankenstein; Jane Eyre will still be Jane Eyre. Will Self will still be writing wierd novels for someone to teach to the monkeys. Please everyone get a grip and remember that the word "book" has several meanings. A decline in hardbook sales is not an assault on literature. Hardbacks are rubbish anyway.

If you want to know, the proper term for a physical book with pages linked together at one side is a codex. It replaced the roll as a physical format for most purposes during the late antique period. I'm sure it seemed like the end of the world to everyone at the time. I can't imagine reading Vergil, they would have moaned, in one of these cheap objects where it's so easy to lose your place. Oh for the smell of old papyrus! And it may be convenient not to need a slave to rewind it for you once you're done, but where's the dignity in that? It's the death of literature.

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