Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Define "BOOK"

A friend showed me her newest high-tech device recently--a Kindle. You know, that thing that looks like a big calculator but contains thousands of pages of writing. She's about to leave on a plane and cannot pack a month's supply of vacation reading, unless it's compressed into this gizmo, which, by the way, she stores in a case made from a real (i.e. paper) book! This disguise allows her to sit beside the pool, appearing to read a traditional book, not attract thieves, not appear to turn a page, not to look like a techie, but to enjoy her reading for hours. So, I ask you, what makes a book a book? Is it the paper? Is it the cover? Is it the concept? The first definition in my Oxford says, "a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers." Well, that dog won't hunt anymore. The second entry helps a bit more, "literary composition intended for publication." We could, I guess, debate "literary" for quite a while, but what about "publication"?

Is this blog publication? Have I published when I offer a poem or story out loud to a small, but interested audience? Must the work reach strangers to count as published? Whew! This is getting hard. If a book is not a gathering of pages bound along one side, and publishing does not mean I have a contract and income, we are free! We can define ourselves and our work as we like. Not everyone will agree, but that's not news, is it? I think publication means that some objective third party has read my composition and agrees to pass it on, paid or not, on paper or on-line. The editorial decision trumps friendship, favoritism, and flattery. A good editor is essential to my concept of publication. I cannot see all the competition for attention that exists in my chosen fields of poetry and fiction. Nor can any one editor, but s/he has a wider view than I have. I may not like the opinion offered, but I have to respect the process. If a book can be a handheld screen hidden inside a traditionally bound book, then we can redefine, each of us, what we expect to count in our search for credibility.

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