Updating the Definition of a “Book”

Does anyone out there write dictionary definitions for a living?

Given the rapid changes in the publishing industry and the ever-evolving English language, I think it’s time for a couple of updates to the definition of the word book.  First, a few of the current definitions:

  • Cambridge Dictionaries Online – “A set of pages that have been fastened together inside a cover to be read or written in.”
  • Wikipedia – “A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of paper, parchment, or other various material, usually fastened together to hinge at one side.
  • Merriam-Webster – “A set of written sheets of skin or paper or tablets of wood or ivory.”

Tablets of wood or ivory?  Really?

I wouldn’t pretend to have the credentials to write updated definitions, but as a serious book lover myself I will offer two specific areas for updating:

One: A Book Is Not A Printed Work

A book is a literary work, regardless of the format in which it is consumed.  A book read on a Kindle or listened to on an iPod is every bit as much of a book read from a fine, leather-bound volume.  Likewise, it shouldn’t require qualification as an “E-book” or an “audiobook.”   They’re all books, the quality of which rests solely on the quality of the writing.

A couple of weeks ago I streamed the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind on Netflix as I exercised on the treadmill.  The movie was still a movie, right?  It wasn’t an S-movie (for streaming) or a T-movie (for treadmill).  It was a movie.

When you listen to Bono sing Sunday Bloody Sunday at a live concert, you’re not listening to a C-song (for concert), are you?

I think you get the idea.

Two: A Book Is A Long-Form Composition

I don’t believe this is new, but I think it’s an important clarification to emphasize in the digital era.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a book requires a well thought out thesis that cannot be written or read in short-order.  Books involve big ideas and big plots which take time.

This gets to the heart of why we will always need books.  If you want to process big thoughts, learn big ideas, effect big changes in the world, there’s simply no better place to turn than books.

So does anyone out there disagree?  Please comment below and let us know what you think!

For more reading on the topic:

Bradley S. Wirz, Founder & CEO

P.S.  Hey book lovers, please flatter us by subscribing to this blog!  Doing so plays a big role in supporting our philanthropic mission to fund libraries and other literacy programs in the developing world.


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