It is difficult to top I.A. Richards: “a book is a machine to think with.” But, more concretely, a book—codex—is a collection of words, letters, and other typographical symbols inscribed on what is by convention termed pages that are bound together by some means. If it is the object that we most likely all agree upon as being such, at least one of said pages will contain bibliographic information and codes for the legal rights of ownership, and the whole thing will be wrapped in such a way as to generate the interest of prospective consumers. Digital forms of books will retain the inscriptions and the idea of a writing surface, but expand the means of claiming property rights. “Ebooks” eliminate the entire navigational apparatus and as a consequence of having undone all of the labor that went into the design of the original object, reading—the intended use of all books—becomes distinctly unpleasant.
Rita Raley teaches in the Department of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has published on subjects ranging from Global English and universal alphabets to tactical media, dataveillance, machine translation, and electronic literature.