What Is a Book?


I used to think I knew—if anyone would even ask such an obvious question. It turns out the definition of a book is actually pretty blurry.

Is a book a physical object? That’s the common understanding: text on pages bound between covers. Yet we consider an audio book a book. With digital publishing, is an e-book still a book? If it’s simply a digital version of the printed book, the answer is as clear as with audio. But what about books that bypass print completely and go straight to digital? Cell phone novels? Vooks? It seems a book isn’t defined only by its form, distribution method, or medium.

What about the creation process? Traditionally, an author would write a book, find an agent to represent her at a publisher, where an editor would make further changes to the text, before print and distribution through online and brick-and-mortar outlets. Now anyone can publish a book by herself; authors can bypass publishers and publish directly with distributors; hand-made books become art. And so on.

How about content, then? A book may be a piece of long, self-contained text that “a writer and editors have refined to a point of completion”. How long is long, though? And what about new versions and editions of a book? Are those still the same book? Anthologies? Bound compilations of blog posts? Content by itself can’t be the definition’s core, either.

Can we perhaps define the book by its use? A book typically requires a number of hours of solitary reading, a commitment of time and involvement from the reader. But we talk about books in discussion groups, review them on blogs, use them as weights or decoration or art. No end to variation here as well.

In this Ignite debut presentation, I will explore various ways of defining the book, concluding that no single, all-encompassing definition of a book may exist after all. With such a flexible definition, a book is what you make it!

Peter Korchnak

Affiliation GoodBookery
Website http://goodbookery.com/

Peter Korchnak is a Slovakman in Portland, immersed in the project of his lifetime.