Pet Book 10 – Digital Materialities

The question of what constitutes a book feels limitless. This week, we focused on The Pedlar Lady of Cushing Cross, with hyper detailed graphic design and narration. We also learnt that this particular e-book, could be edited to include or not include the printed text. However, so many people felt that regardless of the perceived ‘book functions’, they couldn’t consider it as a book. We are then forced to question whether the swiping of a page and word alongside image is the preferred criteria for a book. If it walks like a book and talks like a book, surely it’s a book?

I think our language surrounding literature and the book is particularly limited. I spoke in earlier posts about the ignorance that some readers have in the face of reading and books. Alexis C. Madrigal argues that a book “is a unique string of words”, which seems to refer to the content revolving around the placement of words to express an opinion or story. This points to a particular freedom in the face of establishing the question of book materiality. It appears then, that the issue with digital texts is its going against the book as an object. In previous years, the book was sometimes used as an indicator of class and wealth, and this causes me to wonder what the ebook indicates. Does it suggest an avid reader? Or perhaps,‘tech’ people determined to enfold themselves in every form of fast access to information. Kirschenbaum likens software to books, as an “object of material culture”. With the characteristics of culture changing so constantly, the ebook appears to have evolved from the printed book in order to suit readers needs. It’s like the modern day car, an object of our culture – yet, not many wish to bring back the horse and cart.

If a book has to be a printed object – then the struggle of establishing books is fair. However, as Hayles notes in ‘Writing Machines’, books are “changing as we change”. As a society we demanded the digital, ease of communication, entertainment and reading. Perhaps, the kindle or the ebook is simply trying to keep up with the digital era, instead of demanding society and readers to give over to the digitized realm of texts. Luckily for those with traditional attitudes towards the book object, we have the choice between book and ebook and the freedom to decide for ourselves which reader experience we wish to have.

My PET Book is a printed book, though devoid of any images, it has the features of what many deem a real book. But if it were to be digitized – does it cease to be a book? It certainly doesn’t cease to be a collection of poetry. This makes me wonder whether in the digital era, it is possible to focus on content without being weighed down by the particulars of the book form. Surely, as long as the purpose or message behind the text itself (content) is portrayed successfully, regardless of form, then the writing is fulfilling its potential.


Works Cited

Kirschenbaum G. M., “Software: It’s A Thing”

Hayles, N. K., selections from Writing Machines

Madrigal, C., A.,

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