Monday, October 25, 2010

What Are Books Good For?

"What Are Books Good For?" The Chronicle / William Germano.
Washington: The Chronicle of Higher Education Online, September 26th 2010.

"I've been wondering lately when books became the enemy. ... Part of the problem is knowing what we mean exactly when we say "book." It's a slippery term for a format, a technology, a historical construct, and something else as well.
Maybe we need to redefine, or undefine, our terms.... 
In the sense of having been around a long time, the book has a long story to tell, one that might be organized around four epochal events, at least in the West. In the beginning was the invention of writing and its appearance on various materials. The second was the development during the first years of the Christian era of the codex—the thing with pages and a cover—first as a supplement and eventually as a replacement for the older technology of the scroll. The third was what we think of as the Gutenberg moment, the European deployment of movable type, in the 15th century. And the fourth is, of course, the digital revolution in the middle of which we find ourselves today.
When we say "book," we hear the name of a physical object, even if we're thinking outside the codex. The codex bound text in a particular way, organizing words into pages, and as a result literally reframed ideas."