What is a Book?
One of my favorite movie scenes by Robin Williams was from the movie “Dead Poets Society.” In the movie, Robin Williams plays the instructor, Mr. Keating. He is teaching his students about poetry. Here is the dialogue from that scene:
Gentlemen, open your texts to page 21 of this introduction. Mr. Perry, will you read the opening paragraph of the preface entitled "Understanding Poetry"?
"'Understanding Poetry,' by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme and figures of speech, then ask two questions: 1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and 2) How important is that objective? Question 1 rates the poem's perfection; question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the poem's greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the poem's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great. As you proceed through the poetry in this book, practice this rating method. As your ability to evaluate poems in this matter grows, so will, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry."
Excrement. That's what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We're not laying pipe. We're talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? "Oh, I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can't dance to it." Now, I want you to rip out that page. Go on. Rip out the entire page. You heard me. Rip it out. Rip it out! Go on. Rip it out! [Charles rips out the page] Thank you, Mr. Dalton. Gentlemen, tell you what. Don't just tear out that page, tear out the entire introduction. I want it gone. History. Leave nothing of it. Rip it out! Rip! Be gone, J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. Rip. Shred. Tear. Rip it out! I want to hear nothing but ripping of Mr. Pritchard. We'll perforate it, put it on a roll. It's not the Bible. You're not gonna go to Hell for this. Go on. Make a clean tear. I want nothing left of it.” (Schulman, 2017)
I love that scene because often creativity is hindered or limited by unnecessary rules and restrictions. In the scene above, the guidelines in the text by Pritchard were developed to provide struggling new poets some structure as they wrote their early poems. At the end of the day, poetry is art, its musical words, and rhythmical beauty on a page that can and should be as unique as the author that wrote it. The guidelines should never stifle the delivery of the authentic creativity, emotions, and thoughts of the poet.
In the same way, many of us have “Pritchard-like” rules in our heads as it pertains to writing and publishing a book. When I say the word “book,” what picture comes to mind? Did you see pages, a square object, bound on one end, loose on the other, maybe a hard or soft cover?
If that’s the vision that you had, I want you to “rip” that vision of “book” right out of your mind. That vision of “book” is hindering some of you. First and foremost a book is content. As far as this book is concerned, I want you to think of it as a collection of thoughts and possibly images stored in “the cloud.” I want you to think of it as something that a has a form and structure of your choosing and a certain, distinct message. Nothing more nothing less.
It in its inception a book is not printed pages or graphic images it is first content. Can a book truly be a book without printed pages and/or graphic images? Of course, it can. An e-book has no printed pages. An audio book has no written words or images. I have seen the latest in e-book technology where embedded HD images and video blur the line between what we consider a “book” and what we consider to be a “movie.” I’m not sure what it’s called, but I’m calling it a “video e-book.” My fifth book Fit@50 is my humble attempt at this approach to what I am calling a video e-book. It’s an e-book that has several text pages but also features numerous embedded video links.
Content is king. It is preeminent. If I have content, I can have a printed book, an e-book, an audiobook, a book that can be translated into multiple languages. To the extent that you are still locked into the definition of a book as a bound collection of printed pages, you will be locked into the process by which printed books are produced. Also, you may even be prevented from enjoying the enhanced distribution and revenue of the content placed in other forms.
In its most basic definition, a book tells a story, sends a message, paints a picture, stirs action, proves a point, makes people laugh, takes them on an adventure, puts them in suspense, educates, etc. If your content does any of these things, it’s a book.
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