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What Mess, This Bookness!
- To: Multiple recipients of list BOOK_ARTS-L <BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU>
- Subject: What Mess, This Bookness!
- From: Ed Hutchins <QUEERBOOKS@AOL.COM>
- Date: Sat, 5 Oct 1996 13:34:39 -0400
- Message-Id: <199610051735.KAA21011@SUL-Server-2.Stanford.EDU>
- Sender: "The Book Arts: binding, typography, collecting" <BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU>
Thanks, Peter, for posting Philip's comments on what constitutes "bookness".
It's generated a lot of lively discussion not only on this book list, but in
the studio, at school and around the dinner table.
We've had little success nailing down a concrete definition of what a book is
that is also agreeable to everyone. Philip illustrates the problem when he
wants to include text-decorated dodecahedrons and a pack of tarot cards in
his definition of a book as being a "hinged mult-planer vehicle (that carries
text)" . It's an awkward fit.
When I defined books for myself, I chose not to look at what a book is, what
it is made out of, or what it looks like, but rather what a book is for, or
what is the purpose of it. For me, a book is "a structure for storing and
sharing information." It works for me and for what I am trying to accomplish
as a book artist. But I recognize that, for a majority of people, it is too
broad and does not meet their needs.
This why Philip's comments are so important: they give us a framework for
finding common ground in discussing books. Instead of saying,
"a 'book' IS this AND this AND this AND this,"
maybe we should be saying,
"'bookness' CONSISTS of this OR this OR this OR this."
Some things that may constitute bookness are: pages, covers, binding,
sequence, narration, illustration, table of contents, durability,
portability, shape, purpose, use, acceptance, ISBN number,
book-shelve-ability, etc. The more of these qualities an object has, the
more we can say that it has bookness.
This framework helps define and explain why some objects like the
dodecahedron and the pack of cards can have bookness sometimes and not all
In 1992 when Apple introduced their labtop computer they called it a
PowerBook and described it as "no bigger than a manila folder, no thicker
than a well made sandwich, no heavier than a couple of blockbuster novels."
Their pitch, Susan King observed, "reminds us that this book, like the more
familiar book, offers us stored information, nourishment and entertainment in
one package" (Abracadabra, Spring 1993).
I still plan to use my definition of a book because it works for me. I hope
this new framework helps me discuss books with other people.