What is Book?
(Note: If you are getting this post twice, my apologies as the ‘feed’ kinks are being sorted. Thank you for your patience.)
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What is the meaning–the experience of ‘Book’ these days? How are expectations changing?
I’ve been asking myself this question quite a it as I get my second book into the circuitry of book-things in the world. Not ‘what is A book?’ but what is book? Or another way to ask it is… what friend do I want to take with me on the plane to France? What author will I share a glass of wine with after all day business meetings in Vancouver—after I’m spent and need a different kind of immersion, a new culture of rich nutrients? Maybe I just want to break bread with an author who wouldn’t allow the integrity and energy of their story to be broken down by editors or even, readers. Paul Harding comes to mind.
Harding’s novel Tinkers is gilded with poetic narrative as it tells a powerful story…a sort of rich nutritious meal that I’d like to snack on for days and it only gets better with time. This isn’t the kind of book I would want to read on a device. The art it embodies and the story it tells demands a physical partnership from me—the devoted reader.
It’s a matter of focus. If I read Harding’s book on my iPhone or a reader, I might (I would) be bouncing around interacting with many digital spaces. This is at core is what ‘book’ is for me today… an escape from monkey mind—an immersion into the story world with an author who gives us a slice of the human event. The event of human comes in all shapes and sizes. I like the focus of pages. I like that fact that when happen to fall into a long line at Trader Joe’s, I can pull this book out and be part of a bookseller’s phenomenon. Tinkers sold over 12k books before it won the fiction Pulitzer in 2010. Independent booksellers are rigorous advocates for keeping art, art! when it comes to books.
I think there are times when device reading is perfect. Especially for research or entertainment. But when it comes to the soft dark hours of ‘story’ I’m still all over it with the printed book. I like go on a journey, be surprised and re-embodied by art; humbled and sorted out in a new way.
My new illustrated children’s book took a year to the day. It published last week. I saw it in the beginning as not a book at all. Not a story with a beginning and end; not packaged. I saw it more as a string of nonsensical images—a substratum of energetic DNA that only children would get. I suppose I needed a book that wasn’t ‘adult responsible’ but imagination wild. Well, these images…every time I tried to cut them loose and move on, leave them be… maybe get them a gallery or a drawer in my office they wouldn’t let me be. And the collection became a book that really made itself come alive these past 6 months. I really was a passenger or janitor of sorts. And now it’s a book for adults too.
What is book? Is that the right question? Isn’t that as large as asking ‘What is life?’ Going Carl Sagan on you for a second (we are but a dust mote on the edge of the Milky Way) would I ask, isn’t any human being a book with passages in their lives equal to chapters? and pages equal to days or weeks? An embodied state of things in a package…a form we can relate to?
Books have given me so much pleasure in my life. Newly published…I can just barely skeet on that dusty hope that my books give a little something immersive, real or at least humorous to my readers.
Books like animals make me squeak in foolish, drunken joy.