What is a Book?

what is a book?

What is a book? Why did the publisher hire me to write it and print all these copies? Why am I sprawled in the front hall manipulating packing tape to stick to the package and not to my forearm?

I am sitting in the front hallway of my house, where I’m dwarfed by 1,024 copies of my newest book, just arrived from the printer and mostly still in boxes. I’m admiring the stack of boxes while reducing it as quickly as I can to fill orders (a few paid orders so far), send books to people who contributed interviews or unquoted insight, ship dozens more to press, another to my mom and dad, a bunch to authors I admire, and fifty more for an order that just came in as I was trying to finish this sentence.

Shipping out your own books is one of those odd combinations of exhilaration and boredom. It’s exhilarating because I get to spend time with my fresh, beautiful product, enhancing some of the outbound copies with personal inscriptions that, in the inscribing, bring back memories of how particular contributors worked with me on the book or how friends and family supported me as I put it together. Boring because, after the first twenty or so, the mundane decisions and motions involved – finding suitable packaging materials; deciding between Media Mail, Priority Mail, UPS, and FedEx; double- and triple-checking the address; making sure I’ve used enough packing tape so the package won’t fall apart – tend to wear on me and make me itchy to do something more creative (perhaps get going on writing my next book, whose February 2017 deadline still seems comfortably far away, though really it isn’t).

As the exhilaration descends into boredom, it also makes me philosophical about what the point of a book really is. Exactly why did the publisher hire me to write this book? Why did the printer print all these copies? Why am I sprawled in the front hall manipulating packing tape to stick to the package and not to my forearm? And, of course, why did I write, re-write, re-re-write, edit, and re-edit the content within?

A book is a vessel

Here an attempt to answer these questions.

  • A book is a vessel. A book carries ideas out to the world. In this case, my ideas and the ideas of the people I interviewed or who otherwise contributed to my thinking.
  • A book is a souvenir. A physical book, in particular, can be a souvenir: a souvenir of a reader’s relationship with the author, or with the person who gave it to them, or with the place it was purchased – a cute beachside bookshop, a book reading, a business conference where the author spoke, etc.
  • A book is an exercise. Writing is something I love to do; it’s not just something I do to get my messages out to the world at large. But without that external push, I might never do it. So the exercise of publishing assists me with the exercise of writing, which I love.
  • A book is an object. For me, being involved with the cover design and the interior design, with the writing of the back cover and flap copy, is all of interest to me, and important to me to get right. It’s not as important as the actual manuscript, but it’s still part of the whole magic of putting out a book.

What’s your list? I’d love to hear.




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