A book, according to the dictionary, is a gathering of pages with written or printed content, glued or sewn together on one side and bound between two covers. This is most people’s understanding of a book.
The codex is the form we are familiar with, but books have also been scrolls, tablets of horn or clay, or packets folded and wrapped. They have been written on skin or bark or silk. Today they are mostly on paper. The book pictured at the top of this page shows some of the different forms books have taken over the centuries. It is from the delightful Eyewitness Books series published by Dorling Kindersley in 1993, one of my childrens’ books I could not part with when the time came.
The meaning of books is changing, even enlarging, as it always has. The definition according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary from 1868 offers usages of the word that have faded today.
Since then, books have changed form yet again. Now books can become pixels, as ebooks do, or sound waves, as audiobooks do.
The meaning of the word shapeshifts again when it is used metaphorically. The great book of nature. Her face was an open book.
Or we can pivot to the materiality of a book and the emergence of what are now called artist books, in which the book itself becomes an art object.
These days, when I tell people I am writing a book, I am often asked, Will you write it in calligraphy?
It is true that I have worked for many years with one of the oldest technologies for writing books, that of pen and ink. All books were written by hand before the invention of the printing press. The style of older times has come down to us as what we call calligraphy, or sometimes “fancy writing.”
But no, this time around the book I’ve been working on for the last few years is being written for the purpose of telling a multi-layered story in a more traditional way. I have circled back to the “prose” part of my longtime business name, Prose and Letters.
In this section of my Library I offer you my thoughts on books and “bookness” along with different kinds of books I have written or made.