Undefining the book

“By accident of history, we have applied the same word to pop-up illustrations for children, lavish art and architecture hardcovers, compendiums of home cooking recipes, telephone directories, multi-volume encyclopaedias, historically significant works of literature and poetry, and fun and exciting works of entertainment and pop culture. What we call a ‘book’ has always been loosely inclusive. The only common element to these kinds of content is the object through which they’re distributed: paper, ink, thread, glue.”

So writes Simon Groth, “writer, editor, and reader of both pixels and ink,” who leads if:book Australia,  a think-tank that is part of the Queensland Writers Centre and linked with an international fellowship of organisations exploring book futures, including the Institute for the Future of the Book in New York,  if:book London, and if:lire in Paris.

Willow Pattern by Angela Slatter and others, written as part of if:book’s experimental publishing project, the 24-Hour Book, gives Groth the opportunity to introduce yet another collision in this long accident of history.   The online publishing platform Angela Slatter used to write Willow Pattern is called Pressbooks.   It retains and timestamps the complete text of every saved version of the story.   As Groth puts it, this book “is not just the completed volume, it’s also the entire publishing process, the nuts and bolts and the broad range of information that went into creating it.”  The common element of paper, ink, thread, glue is optional.   What we have is a database offering other options:  the online text with comments, data to explore “to find new threads between stories within the book,” and more.  For Slatter’s thoughts on the experience, click here.

The if:book enterprise has a record of throwing down challenging bookmarks for the evolution of the book.  This looks like another.

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