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What Books Are Made of: Book Art and Electronics

Updated on January 22, 2018

What is a Book?

About a year ago, I entered my Art of The Book class that was required as a Printing and Publishing Arts minor not exactly sure what I was getting myself into. I had never thought of a book itself as art. The content maybe, yes, but never the package it came in. The first thing that my professor asked the class after introducing herself was what we defined as a book.

So, what I'd like to ask you now is the same question. What is a book?

The first images that came to mind when I thought of a book was an old worn hardcover. Square, thick, and full of pages loaded with text. Next picture was a nice and as yet untouched one that still had the new book smell and cracked as I opened it for the first time and its binding broke.

The same pictures emerge for me when I think of a book. However, this class totally changed my perspective as you will see. Does a book have to be square? Does it have to have text? Can it unfold instead of just crack open?

"Mirage" by Karen Hanmer
"Mirage" by Karen Hanmer

Book as Art

Obviously, in a class called Art of the Book, the first thing we looked at was the artistic realm of the book. I never knew such a thing existed but, now that I do, I think it is one of the most fantastic types of artwork out there. This is probably because I am a devout bibliomaniac, if you couldn't already tell from my description of books above. I love books and I love art. Why had I never thought of putting the two together before?

The pictures to the right are the books that I made for the final for the class. I was as creative as I could, making a book look like a hot air balloon and a 3-D landscape within a box, all within a Wizard of Oz theme. Mine are nothing compared to the pro's, however. For example Karen Hanmer, whose work is pictured above, is one of my favorites and a strong example of how with books anything is possible in the art realm. There is also The Naked Book, curated by Linda Kiley.

Kindle Fire
Kindle Fire

Book as Electronic

Of course, as an ex Printing and Publishing Arts minor and an English Literature major, I was involved in many a discussion of the book's evolution from clay tablets to a snazzy sleek e-reader. Classes were almost evenly split in half, with one side saying the book is only a book as a bunch of pages bound together and the other saying that as long as the text can be read, it is still a book.

Is the book still a book without text, like the art pieces above? Or is it only about text, like the downloadable versions in cyberspace?

I believe the book is both. There are so many different types of books that I think it would be unfair to exclude one. It'd be like saying food is only food if it's crunchy so bananas don't count. Just doesn't make sense. For me, if I can interact with it, be inspired by it, and it can tell me a story, it's a book. A picture is worth a thousand words, except Ms. Hanmer has decided some of hers are worth about a thousand dollars, but still, as long as you can look at it and it tells you something I think it's a book.

Some stories are just better told with good old text, which is where the e-reader comes to play. Some readers just need that crack of the binding or that nice old musty smell to get there bibliomaniac heart racing and that's just fine too. They're all books.

Which do you prefer...

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Back to Basics

If you go to and type in "book" in the search engine, it will tell you, firstly, that it is "a written or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers." At its very basics, books are simple and exquisite. They can lay down, stand up, open up, or close shut. You can slam them down, dust them lovingly, or stack them as tall as the ceiling. When in doubt about what defines a book, just stick to the basics. I've played with making my own artistic books and I've even gotten myself a Kindle, but, in the end, I've still got stacks and boxes of your basic book lying around and I buy and read more of those than the downloadable version.

I'd like to hope that in the digital age, no matter what happens, the basic good old book still survives. Even though the book can be defined in thousands of different ways, you can't fix what ain't broke, so to say. However, you can still lose it. So go ahead and buy that new e-reader, just don't forget to support your local bookstores and keep books alive.

© 2011 Lisa


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