Reassessing the Print Book

What is a book? For centuries, books have existed in a form that has come to be universally recognized. Few of us ever bothered to give the book, either as object or idea, very much thought, any more than we might ask, ‘what is a chair? ‘

What is a book? The answer just seems so obvious. Yet poet, scholar, and book artist Amaranth Borsuk has taken up the challenge to offer much more than a simple definition. Her latest book, The Book from MIT Press, is a thoughtful interrogation of the book as object and idea. An Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, Amaranth Borsuk concentrates her focus on what she calls ‘textual materiality,’ the surface of the printed page as well as the surface of language.

Stream this episode of Beyond the Book now.

“When we hear the word book, the object that we are all picturing, we imagine it to be universal. It’s a stack of pages that has been bound along one edge and enclosed between covers. We can picture that on our bookshelves, we can picture it on bookstore shelves when we go into physical brick and mortar bookstore. We have this object that has been so much a part of our lives that it seems to be the only thing that could answer to the name of book,” she explains.

“But if you look at the history of how information has been distributed in different portable forms, there have been myriad other shapes the book has taken over time,” says Borsuk. “Our weddedness to that one form is a form that arises after about 2000 years of text proliferating in other media. So that book shape, which is known as ‘the codex’ to book artists and scholars of book history, is actually only one of many.”

Read the full transcript here.


Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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