E-books and Their Containers: A Bestiary of the Evolving Book

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April 2011
by Joseph Esposito

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E-books and Their Containers: A Bestiary of the Evolving Book

by Joseph Esposito

Nowadays we like to think of books as something separate from their containers, though they take their specific form by virtue of being bound (literally) inside a small block of print. Thus the text of, say, Jonathan Franzen’s latest or Augustine’s Confessions can be removed from the Macmillan or Penguin or Oxford edition and poured into new vessels—an iPad, an Android phone, the latest release of the Amazon Kindle.

It’s as though the text were pure spirit and the physical book its mortal coil. When we shuffle off the physical book, we set the text free, where it can determine its own shape and meaning. What a piece of work is a book, in apprehension so like a god!

This is incorrect. Although there is more to a book than its container (most important is context, as noted in Brian O’Leary’s “Context First” post at magellanmediapartners.com), the creation of a text is a dialogue between the ideas and words of the author and the limitations imposed by its container. Some ideas are good for books, some for journals, some for magazines, some for dramatic performance—we have incorporated the formal assumptions of containers into our ideas and now take them for granted.

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