I had the same experience twice this week. I’m chatting with a friend or an acquaintance at a social gathering, community event, or business function when the person leans close, assumes a sheepish grin, and in a voice pitched too low for anyone else to hear, confesses, “I’m writing a book.”
Such confessions make my heart sing. Don’t whisper, I think. Give yourself a pat on the back. Treat yourself to champagne. I wish you every success. And don’t give up.
Lately, with the future of “book” (as we understand the word) in question, the attempt to write one strikes me as heroic. Will the very concept of “book” become outmoded?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “book” comes from the Proto-Germanic bokiz or “beech,” a reference either to the beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed or to the tree itself. As the publishing industry pushes us toward the virtual, will the roots of the word in the physical world seem inappropriate? Does an e-version deserve to carry a name based on the organic materials from which a book is made?
The picture that accompanies this post features a shelf in my home library. It just happens to be the shelf where my own as yet unpublished book will live (in alphabetical order by author’s last name, should it be destined to take print form), living out eternity somewhere between the books of John Irving and Kazuo Ishiguro. Given the current state of publishing, I sometimes despair of ever seeing my book assume this place.
So to all of you closet writers out there, keep telling me your secret whenever you can. And keep writing your books.
And let’s agree that when we envision “book,” we’ll see our words pressed into paper that has tint and heft. We’ll imagine our pages as leaves that ruffle in a breeze. When we say the word “book,” we’ll think about where it will sit on a shelf or how it will rest on a table.
We’ll remember that “book” refers to something three-dimensional. In that form, books occupy physical space and cannot fail to demand our attention.