Back when Gertrude Stein wrote her famous poem on a rose in 1913, a book was the only way of communicating a literary message besides the news papers’ feuilletons. A book was a book, in short.
Within the literary field many things have happened in the past 100 years: New formats have come to life and writers have found new ways of getting their words out there. Yet, a book is still (just) a book.
Many publishers, bookshops and enthusiastic lovers of paper are celebrating when new studies show that the printed book has gained terrain and we’re claiming that reading just isn’t the same when it’s not on real paper. We’re behaving as if the digital development is a life-threatening disease to be fought with all means. And it might very well be just that, in time. Or! We could welcome the endless possibilities that arise with the digital world and rethink what a book is today – and more importantly: What we want from a book today.
I too am one of those lovers of paper. It’s the one thing that I find myself spending (too) much money on each month, be it magazines, newspapers, books, you name it. But at the same time, I’m not a fan of the very conservative, reactionary way we seem to be dealing with publishing. We are so eager to maintain the status quo from back when Gertrude Stein was writing that we’re forgetting to see the new world of opportunities that has opened up with the digital revolution.
E-books have gained some territory, especially outside of Denmark where the main part of my literary upbringing has taken place. But they will not give (me) the same satisfaction as books of paper; not because e-books aren’t printed, but because they’re simply nothing more than a PDF file. But why haven’t we taken the chance to add value to the digital book? Why haven’t we used some of the many great ways ofcreating inspiring storytelling that by the very nature of physical objects are not possible in printed books?
If we started thinking of the e-book, or digital book as I prefer, as a co-operator instead of a competitor, we could and would challenge the entire way of reading – making reading an interesting, inspiring and thrilling way of gaining information or finding entertainment. We need to start thinking about relations between texts, authors and subjects and finding means of creating interaction between “book” and reader.
I have many ideas on how to challenge the future of reading and in the coming weeks and months I will write about some of them here. Please, do share your thoughts on this very necessary topic – even if you are one of them who just wants a book to be a book. As it always was.