When is a book not a book?

As technology grows ever snazzier, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to work out exactly what the word ‘book’ defines. Back when I was a kid that was a pretty easy question to work out. A book was a collection of pages bound together, normally with a pretty picture on the cover. True, some books were made of cloth and some were even waterproof and inflatable (I wish you could get those bath time books for adults), but they were all essentially the same thing.

Then there were audio books and story tapes, and these were a little trickier to classify, but it wasn’t much of a problem, seeing as you’d naturally assume there was a solid, paper book present during the creation of the tape – they had to be reading the story from something after all.

The movement of stories from paper and print to pixels muddied the water slightly, but when I think of ebooks, I still think of something that resembles a physical book. In my mind, it’s just a digital representation of those paper creations I know and love – whether it’s a whole book on my laptop or a short story on Ether, it’s still a ‘book’ to me.

But yesterday I saw a news story about Penguin’s new book for babies, which seems to be an interactive story experience on the iPad for the teeny ones, and I started wondering when you reached the point where a book was no longer a book. True, many children’s books are interactive – from those cute ones with spaces for finger puppets to pop up varieties – but then, so are plenty of video games.

Getting stuck into a console based game such as Final Fantasy or Fable isn’t considered the same thing as reading a book, and I definitely don’t think it should be, but there’s plenty of storytelling – and generally reading involved in these experiences.

So, if playing games like those are considered something very separate from reading a book, where do you draw the line when it comes to the new, multimedia offerings that are being branded as books these days? I’m thinking of things like the new Penguin release, or Ann Rice’s ebook experiment, or any of the other new developments that combine traditional books with new technology to make something new. When does a book stop being a book? Or does the word book just have a totally different meaning these days?

19 thoughts on “When is a book not a book?

  1. Yeah, my inflatable Goldie Goldfish book was like my favourite bath toy!

    I guess those over-wordy video games are like an extension of interactive fiction that’s been doing the rounds on the internet since the internet existed. I’ve had a lot of fun playing them – sort of like digital versions of Choose Your Own Adventure books, but with more possibilities (as many as they could be bothered to program, but without the limitations of a page count).

    Interesting speculations, boss!


    • I will never forget the choose your own adventure book you gave me for Christmas the other year.

      I love to speculate so I do,. And I like that you still call me boss even though there’s really no reason to anymore.


  2. So many cool things you can do with this new tech! Here’s to jumping on that bandwagon early, and setting some trends of our own!


  3. To add more unresearched/incorrect speculation, books didn’t exist for ages – people just told stories or (like the Egyptians and naughty children) wrote them all over the walls. So maybe books as we know them were just a stop-gap after all?…

    Maybe when the inevitable apocalypse comes to pass, we’ll go back to the oral tradition? (Because all paper/iPads will be burnt and our mutant hands will be too unwieldly to use pens).


    • I’m just glad I never had to read a Point Horror from an animal skin, I don’t think my pre-teen self could have handled it.

      The oral tradition has it’s plus points, but it’s so… unreliable, and prone to immediate revisions. If books have been a phase, I;m glad I didn’t miss it.


  4. Pingback: Menu Update « Cities of the Mind

  5. I volunteer in a used book store because books are to be shared over and over. One day I sat down and found 20 reasons why electronic devices for reading just wouldn’t do it for me. For example, I can’t imagine taking KoBo to the beach…I like to hold a book in my hands and I like smelling the pages…

    I LIKE this post!


    • that is one thing about physical books I wasn’t really thinking of (maybe because I’m a terrible hoarder and not very many of my books every leave my grasp), but you’re totally right – there’s nothing like lending someone a book you’ve loved or reading a copy of a classic owned by your grandparents – and that doesn’t really translate to the digital age in the same way. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Pingback: When is a book not a book? « Not a Word of a Lie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.