Damion Searls

In Defense of Book

Awaiting a Reader’s Manifesto

What is a book? A landscape, a community, a refuge? Roberto Bolaño, in a late interview, said that a library is a symbol for everything good about human nature, the way a concentration camp is also a symbol for everything evil. Marcel Proust writes that authors may call their books Conclusions, but for the reader they are called Provocations: we want books to give us answers when all they can give us are desires.

The topic is a vast and mysterious one, but the only conversation to be had about it nowadays is the one about e-books: the ways reading a file on a Kindle or iPad is like reading a book and the ways it isn’t (Subconversation One: better; Subconversation Two: worse). Books—and e-books and blogs, too—have been written on the debate, positions staked out, and all the arguments made about what e-books are or aren’t or will be. But the arguments assume that we already know what the existing technology is, what e-books are trying to be (or trying not to be).

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Damion Searls is a translator and the editor of Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861 and Melville’s ; or The Whale. He is currently writing a novel of analog life, as well as a biography of Hermann Rorschach and history of the Rorschach Test.

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