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What Makes a Book a Book?

Posted by Cynthia B on 08/03 at 07:16 AM

This morning, on NPR’s Morning Edition, Lynn Neary and Linda Wertheimer talked about the growing use of so-called “electronic readers,” and the question of, “What makes a book a book?”
I got an electronic reader recently, as a gift, and I can vouch for all the pros and cons cited. 

On a recent long airplane ride, I had run out of reading material.  Never again! These devices let you carry a suitcaseful of books in a package weighing a few ounces.  So that’s a definite plus.

For the technophobic, I can report, these devices are notably well designed and easy to use.  Many prompts are built in, so you don’t have to memorize a lot of commands; if you forget what button you need to push, it will remind you.

Linda talked in rather glowing terms about “cozying up to a Kindle.” I can report that one nifty feature—the display shifts automatically from vertical to landscape when you rotate it, just like an i-Phone—is actually a disadvantage when reading in bed. You’re just getting comfy, when you roll a fraction of an inch too far and oops, the screen displays in a plane perpendicular to your field of view.

Design is also an issue. The book I am currently reading has amusing epigrams at the start of each chapter—but each opening page has exactly one line of type that is forced to the next (otherwise blank) page.  I spent 8 years working at a magazine that won awards for design and layout, and if our designer had ever made such a gaffe, I think she would have given herself 20 lashes with an editor’s blue pencil.

Finally, when I buy books I often pass them along to friends.  The biggest disadvantage of an e-book: you can’t share it.  It’s on your reader, that’s it.

I love books—owning them, holding them, re-reading them, filling rooms with them.  My dad was in the book business, and back when I was a nerdy kid with big thick glasses and a different book lying facedown in every room of the house.  I thought he had the best job in the world. 

I don’t believe “real” books are going to disappear, but I do think electronic readers, in some form, are here to stay.

Author: Cynthia B
Bio: WPSU-FM Producer


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