What is the purpose of “the book” any longer? I write this question while I have a library of my own in excess of 3,000 physical books. I number nearly that many in electronic books. My physical books cover topics from ancient architecture and city planning, The History of Beads, everything ever written by C.J. Cherryh, a few of my favorite Margaret Atwoods, a copy of every single religion’s “holy” work, a few biographies (not my favorite genre), a number of “science for simpleton” reductionist nonfics, every Alice Hoffman, most Marge Piercey’s, and then a scattering of male authors which are early and / or hard to find in the U.S.
Since I got my tablet, I’ve moved away from the paperback novel. The only works I collect in their first printings (either trade paperback or HB) are those novelists whose work I’d miss if the electricity goes out. It also turns out that I don’t like electronic versions of cookbooks. Tech manuals in electronic form are fine for me, but absolutely nothing to do with craftsmanship. These days, I buy hardback books where the photographic or visual element are the centerpiece of the work. The problem I’ve got is that my walls are shelves and I’ve run out of wall space between the artwork I have up and the bookshelves.
While my “disposable” reading is purely electronic – that is, nearly all my romance and erotica – I can’t imagine losing the tactile quality of the physical book. And while I might not be an avid collector, I think about the future of the book, and how what a book “means” is changing.
While my biggest concern is the secondary paperback market and the widespread availability of 2nd generation books at a reasonable price, one of the “promising” side effects of the electronic / transitory movement of words off the papered page is that it returns “the book” back to its “roots” in that at one time books were not disposable objects, but treasures.
Electronic publishing, like blogging, or poetry boards, or just the internet itself is the means for verbal diarrhea to overspill the page. While I am one of those who will call a book “defective” and ask for a refund if I can’t make it beyond page 1, there are many of my electronic books I do love, but would never buy in meatspace. They’re just not good enough.
Poetry is in even worse shape than the novel. Not only did no one ever buy poetry since the late 70’s, now all the “poets” slap their print on demand works on Amazon where their rank falls below the 1,768,234th position. Then there are the hastily printed chapbooks which are shoved into coworkers hands, a flood of posts on a dead internet bulletin board, and people’s responses in the comments section of a news article written in some desperate verse. The small poetry sections of the few bookstores left feature mostly anthologies or dead poets anyways, with only a few representative live ones.
But I cannot claim to be free of hubris myself. Because I don’t really want to try and organize myself to muck around with traditional publishing for The Marriage Bed
I’ve decided to take the letterpress printing a step further, I’m going to hand-set the type and print the book in a limited edition run. I love my work. I believe in the pieces. I believe in them enough that throwing them into the spectacle of electronic transience, or acid-paged burn just isn’t inspirational for me.
Who has last fondled their book of poetry? Read a work time and again? Made notes written in the margins about what inspired you in the piece? When was the last time you re-read a live poet’s work so many times you felt their words to be your own? When was the last time you held a book of beauty in your hands?
This slow process of hand-setting the type is an act of paying attention to each and every letter within each word. One observes the punctuation around the phrases, the length of each line. In considering the physicality of the object itself, the exercise is a second meditation on the work. The book will not be traditionally bound, but will be a series of cards, each set with their own poem and artwork. There will be a limited edition box created for the cards as well.
It distracts from my writing, but the process is the closest I’ve gotten to taking my work seriously.