E-Libris: What is a Book Anyway?
I think, however, this question should not be asked by science fiction writers. We’ve been thinking of alternate modes of reading for ages. Shigawire spools, Star Trek PADDs® , brain implants, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why should we even think twice when offered the chance to get our hands in a device that can storage hundreds of books and allows us to switch between several books faster than a desktop or notebook interface could, with all the benefits (like doing a search for certain words or writing annotations)?
The history of reading media is a fluid one; it was never set in stone. From clay tablets to papyrus to parchments, and almost finally, codices (the direct ancestors to our current hardcovers and paperbacks), humankind was always trying to improve the way to experience a better access to the written word.
As weird as it may sound today, not everybody liked the idea of a written medium for recording words. Plato may be the first (at least in Western history) who suggested that writing things down was a signal of the decline of civilization, because then we would lose our ability to memorize – and the oral transmission of history would end. He wasn’t exactly wrong about that last assumption, but Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey were since then translated to the written mode, and after that to the printed medium (and, today, to the audiovisual medium via the movies and even the Internet). The story is not lost to us, even after 2.500 years.
Paraphrasing Emily Dickinson, a book is a book is a book is a book. Does it really need to be contained between the covers of the codex? Much as I love a physical book, with its texture and its smell (yes, I’m a fetishist) and the name of this column is both a homage and a reference to the famous Anne Fadiman book, Ex-Libris (which I love and reread now and then in its physical version), I still love better what its insides tell me. I’m a haruspex of books: I am a reader of the entrails of the sentences; I take the coils of paragraphs out of the body of the book and divine its meanings still hot, fuming, and fragrant, sometimes keeping them only to my pleasure, sometimes sharing them with others, because otherwise what’s the fun in that?
What I am, at the end of the day, is a reader of stories. Stories told by people since time immemorial, by women and men who used their brains, their voices, their bodies, and their imagination, to tell other women and men things they saw, heard, felt, or simply thought – for such is the power of the mind.
So, when at last those stories started to become available in digital format, I became very curious to read them. It wasn’t love at first sight, but you might call it fascination: I have always loved the computer and the screen, and since I was a teenager (when I bought my first PC, a TK-82C made in Brazil, a Sinclair-type computer) I became quickly used to it, and after that to bigger, sturdier PCs, and the digital world of the Internet, followed by the World Wide Web, without ever letting go of the paper books.
And so it came to pass that I became a fan of the digital book, or e-book, and then, from 2010 on, of the e-reader itself. In this column, I will talk not about any particular title (although sometimes I may have to do exactly that, but only to illustrate a point – I will also review books for SF Signal from now on, but not in the column); my intention is write about e-books and e-readers from my experience. I’ve been experimenting with several formats for the past few years; you will read some of my findings, joys, and pains here.
Thanks to John DeNardo and the team at SF Signal for welcoming me. I hope I can add something interesting to this treasure trove of science fiction news and information in general.
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