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When is reading a conventional book different from reading an e-book? What really makes the difference?

P1030982The book, whether it is a physical book or an e-book, can be defined as an organism that brings the content (text) directly in the shortest form from the author to the reader.

The text is grounded to the page as a defined space in both instances. Though the materials used for the book and e-book are different, they do not influence the function of bringing the message to the reader. Here is where the similarity ends. There is an added dimension to the physical book in space and time which does not exist in an e-book unless that e-book has an added interactive function. In both instances we can leaf through, start at the back or at any page we choose, but the paper bound book has the great advantage of being able to be personalized by anyone in whose care it is.

The conventional book in printed form can be personalized by the reader as well as the author through a dedication or note which expresses other thoughts or emotional reactions to the content.

The form of the conventionally printed book with some difficulty can be changed to suit the reader by means of a new or different cover and binding. In its oldest form, books were printed on sheets and bound by the purchaser to suit his requirements.

The book owner can bestow a memory in some form or other to a specific book by adding items to it and making it a personal expression of what he treasures. These added memories provide a glimpse into the culture of that moment through the language used or the embellishment chosen, like a cover or binding. This is not dissimilar to the old fashioned photo album, containing treasured memories, for example, of a trip taken with loved ones now frozen in time forever.

In the future, many libraries will become containers filled with extraordinary items attesting to a way of being or thinking and the old function of the mere possession of a book and the enterprise of loaning it out will take a back seat to the demands of a new age, a different society, a different way of learning, and perhaps a start of a different experience; the search for culture containers in the most simple form with the goal of creating more discerning eyes, more attention to the “conversation” between people and society at a crossroads.

Here are some examples of the types of books (culture containers) referred to in the short essay above.

P1030983The French book published in 1898, with its marbled paper binding, in this case also different from the marbled paper used on the inside has been personalized with a dedication and autograph by the author, editor and symbolist poet Edmond Pilon (1874-1945) to the composer/musician Gabriel Fabre (1858-1921) whose works, short melodies or pieces for piano, were inspired by the texts of the great symbolist poets of the day: Verlaine, Mallarmé, Moréas and Maeterlinck whose poetry was first set to music by Fabre. In this case, the dedication is from one creative mind to another creative mind, it tells us about the personal sentiments of the author but does not directly relate to the text of the book.P1030985Our next example is a Dutch book written by the author Robert Van Gulik, a translation from the original title: The Chinese Nail Murders.

IMG_0009The author as a curiosity, worked his initials into the map in the book explaining part of the plot as well as using those initials on the cover of the book.

IMG_0008The reader in our case personalized the book with a handmade and homemade embroidered muslin book cover using a part of an Chinese silk piece, to express his affinity for the content or author, in this case there is only one copy like this in existence.


IMG_0007Perhaps the finest example, in my opinion, is this copy of the the German poetry/drama book shown below written by the famous Austrian author Hugo von Hoffmannsthal (1874-1929).IMG_0013The book was published in Germany in 1930 and was read by either a German or Dutch owner deducted from the inscription “palmzondag” ( Palm Sunday) and the date 1931 as well as the town of Voorschoten near The Hague in the Netherlands under the fainted photograph showing two men playing a what I assume is a game of checkers or chess or something similar. The book was used to put dry flowers of obvious sentimental value to those who possessed the book.IMG_0014The most interesting is a note added in 1938 perhaps referring to the turbulent times the reader experienced at the impending World War a year later. The quotation is from the German Jewish author Martin Buber and referred to as from page 158 from the Chassidic buecher (books) which I have not been able to reference but I found the part quote elsewhere in a book by Buber Die Legende des Baalschem (The Legend of Baal Shem) on page 32/33 and the full text reads as follows:

“”Denn der Schenkende ist von Seiten der Gnade und der Empfangende ist von Seiten des Gerichts- sofar the inscription in the book- it continues  with und so ist es mit jedem ding. Wie man aus einem Grossen Gefaes in einem Becher Giest; das Gefaes schuettert sich in Fuelle Aus, aber der Beche setzt seiner Gabe die Grenze.”

A liberal translation would be approximately:

“Because the donor (giver) comes and gives with grace and the receiver is bound by the aspects of a certain law -; so far the inscription in the book – it continues with- and so it is with all things. When you pour from a bottle into a glass, the bottle will pour forth with abundance but the glass limits and determines the true measure of the gift.”


IMG_0016This book becomes a cultural container with content by the author, embellished with a quote by another author and personal items from the reader, a completely transformed and more elaborate container permitting a glance into different lives and times for a discerning eye. Three different types of books from different times but each with its own charm. How great is that!