On Friday night I went along to hear Bob Stein speak at Wordpool, an event presented by QLD Writers Centre as part of the 2009 Ideas Festival. Stein challenged the conventional idea of the book, its cultural role and the role of author and reader by focussing his presentation on the central question: What is a book?
In answering the question he began by looking at Copernicus’ book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (“On the revolution of the heavenly spheres”), famously referred to by Arthur Koestler as, ‘the book nobody read‘. This however, was not the case, as when Owen Gingerich, a former astrophysicist at Harvard, had a chance to examine a copy of a first edition of De revolutionibus, he was impressed by its extensive annotations, proving as Stein said, that even in 1543, there were conversations taking place between author and reader in the margins.
It is these conversations that are now commonplace on blogs, social networking sites and e-book readers that are placing author and reader on the same page and transforming the role of the book.
As reading moves from a solitary act to a social act, the book, once viewed as a ‘complete aretfact’, is fast becoming an endless continuum of ideas and discussion.
So just what is a book? This is a question I would love many of you to respond to as we have certainly moved beyond the Merriam-Webster definiton where the book is defined as ‘a set of written, printed, or blank sheets bound together into a volume.’
Look forward to hearing from you…