Sunday, January 13, 2008

Judging an E-Book by Its Cover

A book by any other name (for instance, an "e-book") might not smell as sweet, but it might be a joy to read.

What makes a book lovable? Some insist a book is defined by its sensory qualities: the texture of its pages; the smell of its binding; the colors of its cover. These people would argue that a book is like a good meal, that presentation is all-important. The red of bell pepper and the green of cilantro against an oversized white plate complement the entrée. For them, that makes the meal delicious!

But does it? What is on that plate anyway?

Beauty is as beauty does. At least that's what my mother told me. And I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a book beautiful. Is it presentation, or content, or both? Given a badly written book presented on a beautiful reading instrument, or a book whose prose soared served on a clunky reading device, which would you choose? Of course, your answer depends on personal judgment. And I've offered a lot of room for judgment here. For some, the e-book format is more aesthetically pleasing than the paper version. (Yes, really!) And for others, the prose that might soar for me, plunges into heavy yawns for them.

So what really does matter? C.S. Lewis said, "We read to know we are not alone." When I read something I really love, I transcend the physicality of the device I happen to be reading and join the author's sensory world. I don't smell the binding of the book, I smell the coffee the author skillfully brings to aromatic life. I feel the heat of the fictional sun on my skin, not the texture of the page. I see that well-described green of the African veldt, not the cover of the book. And I know I'm not alone. I'm with the author.

I'd bet some of the original bards objected heartily, maybe even musically, to written books. And there had to be people who found typeset works distasteful compared to the carefully hand-inscribed manuscripts.

As for me, I'll read anything that tells a good story, even a stone tablet.


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