If you love books, chances are your reading experience is about more than just reading them. Even if you read books on an electronic device, you may still feel a special affinity toward holding a paper book in your hands. For example, you might read only certain books electronically, saving specific books or favorite authors for print only. You may enjoy the satisfaction of turning the pages, seeing at a glance how far you have progressed through the book and how much you have to go. You might be subtly aware of whether the story is rushing to a conclusion or will have a sudden complication based on the number of pages you’ve read or have yet to read. Maybe you even ration yourself so the story doesn’t end before you are ready. Stop now or just one page more?
Those are feelings that are difficult to replicate electronically. There is no instant feedback regarding the number of pages left. The pages are not even consistent from device to device to paper. There is no weight to the book itself. In fact, there may be no final sense of satisfaction from looking at the physical object you just mastered—no way to give a special book a place of prominence on your bookshelf.
As we progress through the stages of adopting a new technology, we may still be conflicted over what we are purportedly leaving behind. Tradition or technology? Among those things we seem to be losing is the sheer beauty of the printed page, the paper, the binding, and the artwork—the things we call book arts.
When I wrote The Gutenberg Rubric, I struggled with many of the same feelings. My heroes are rare book experts, discovering secrets on a printed page that could only have been hidden by a master craftsman casting lead type, but I am using digital bits and eBook technology to tell the story. Drs. Keith Drucker and Madeline Zayne are similarly conflicted. Keith realizes that the very tools he is using to authenticate printed works and analyze the origin of different inks are akin to the technologies that are also replacing printing and traditional book arts. Even Maddie’s library of rare books is a technological wonder where security cameras provide a constant feed to computers, air quality is measured and maintained, and the collection is protected by automated systems that make it almost impregnable.
The beautiful typography, the feel of the paper, the elegant bindings—these are part of what we love about book arts, and like Keith’s grandfather, we might sigh at their disappearance; but that doesn’t mean there is no art in eBooks. eBook arts still need to be explored and expanded upon—developed into their own unique art instead of blindly copying the printed form. Gutenberg painstakingly copied the letterforms he saw in the great Bible of Mainz as he cut the punches and made the molds for his font. Over 260 different characters were cast to cover the variations in width, abbreviations, punctuation, and ligatures. Can you imagine the monks looking at the first copy of the Gutenberg Bible and shaking their heads sadly? “They are all the same. The letters are so uniform. This is the death of the book.”
But within 10 years of the first printing, the art had begun to develop. Even the decorative initial caps were being printed with colored ink. Woodcuts were integrated with the lead type and the very form of what we call a book changed, shrinking from massive volumes on library tables to the popular octavo size (about a standard hardcover size today) that could easily be carried from place to place. We had to abandon former technology (pen and ink) and let the new technology (movable type) emerge into the art form we love so much.
The same is necessary with eBooks. We are still in the stage of trying to duplicate print on e-readers. That effort is doomed to failure. There are fundamental parameters—not limitations—of the technology that make it impractical to translate the art we created in print to digital bits. At the same time, there is a world of new possibilities. Interactivity, film and animation, audio, multi-media, or any of a dozen other things could be tacked on to an eBook. What we haven’t done yet, however, is find the unique art of the digital book.
I’m a bit of a juxtapositionist, myself. I serve on the board of the Seattle Center for Book Arts and demonstrate letterpress printing in my talks around the country, yet I hold several patents in on-screen layout and typography. All my books are available in both print and eBook formats. I’m looking forward to the future of the book while still holding on to the art of the past.
And as Keith and Maddie find out in The Gutenberg Rubric, the past may hold surprising secrets that will affect how we see the future.
The Gutenberg Rubric: http://www.gutenbergrubric.com
The Rubricant Blog: http://www.gutenbergrubric.com/blog
Author Central: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004QVVE1S