When is a Book a BOOK by Dianne Horsfield

I am finding that the older I get the more pedantic I become and an advert running on British TV set me pondering.

A very well-known company is currently running an advert on British television. A number of children, probably in the age range eight to 13 are extolling the virtues of reading a book when they are in fact reading from an E-Reader.

This got me thinking. Are the children in the advert REALLY reading a book or are they reading a story? It might seem pedantic but bear with me. A book is more than the words the author has conjured up from their imagination or the research they undertook in order to expanding the reader’s knowledge.

I believe a book is a physical item in its own right and has it’s own life force. It may have a hard or paper back. The illustration could be raised, embossed, monochrome or incorporate many colours. The author’s name maybe more prominent than the title. It could be a book bought fresh from the retailer. The scent of the ink, the texture of the paper, the shade could be anything from brilliant white to nicotine-stained yellow.

The book may have been borrowed from a library, friend, colleague, tutor. It may have been bought from a second-hand book dealer, charity shop, flea market or jumble sale. It could be a month old or 200 years old. Every previous reader will have left their mark on it. What does the spine look like? Is it creased from any number of openings? Are there notations in the margins or passages highlighted? Can the perfume of the last reader still be distinguished or is the aroma of years past evident?

An E-Reader is a machine. Even if the ‘book’ being read is 175 years old, the white ‘page’ on the E-Reader is exactly the same shade as a book published yesterday. There is no history within the ‘pages’. There’s no texture, no sign of previous readers because there are none. Every book purchased or borrowed to be read on an E-Reader is brand spanking new.

I have absolutely no issue with E-Readers. They are an amazing, valuable tool to store any number of books and articles. Authors who publish solely for the E-market are no less talented, dedicated or hard working as their counterparts who publish in paper. I’m sure many authors do both.

My issue is one of semantics. An E-Reader is no more a book than it is a chair. |It is an item in its own right. It has a name. It is in the Oxford Dictionary (which is also available in print and electronically). Semantics matter.

Oxford Dictionaries.com explains semantics thus:

Noun [Usually treated as singular]

The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.

The meaning of a word, phrase, or text: such quibbling over semantics may seem petty stuff”

Semantics or more specifically for the sake of this argument, lexical semantics, help us make sense of the world. A chair and a stool are both items on which a person may sit, but they are two completely different items of furniture. I therefore suggest that such distinction be made between books and e-readers. They both do the same job; transporting readers to new worlds, allow us to meet mythical or extinct creatures, introduce us to characters who will live in our minds for many years, expanding our knowledge of science and the world around us, but they ARE different.

Books have a soul, a past, present and future. We read a book, hold it in our hands, hear the sound as we turn the pages.

An e-reader allows us to read stories. Stories lovingly crafted to enthrall or enrich us. Content within reference items tell a story, taking the reader from point A to point B in a logical fashion just as a literary author takes us through the lives of their characters.

In conclusion I would argue that a very definite distinction be made. Books are completely different to E-readers. Both hold stories; both contain the blood sweat and tears of the author, but an E-reader is not a book just as a stool is not a chair.

2 thoughts on “When is a Book a BOOK by Dianne Horsfield

  1. What you write is so true. There’s nothing like the smell of an aged book (my good lady sometimes asks ‘when are you going to throw that out? It’s affecting me!’). I’ve yet to see a book mite crawl across the face of my Kindle – perhaps there is an app for such things.



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