‘”The book is dead” – Ikhide. “Ikhide is dead.” – The Book ‘ – Grafitti.
There is no doubt that new technologies taking over the culture of publishing have sort of made the book redundant. But how total is that overthrow of the almighty good old hard cover material once known as the book? In the beginning, there were scrolls, nay, first there were hieroglyphics and scrawling on stone cave walls. And that was after communications went on via drum beats, gongs, and loud whistles across farm fields. Skip to the present, across generations of texts, scrolls and patches bearing thousands of important scriptures, texts and messages for generations.
We have the ebook, and many electronic ways of communicating ideas, almost like the book. Almost like most ancient means of communication. The iPhone could as well be a smooth but feathered pebble sent across from a far village to transmit a short message from a dying man to another – aroko; a phone call a mystical connection of voices between distances. Even babalawos might be able to explain that with some of their ancient texts. The man rubbed his head three times, chewed on the sour kola as he stood on top of the hill and called the name of his son seven times, and from where he was thousands of miles away, the young man rose from his sleep, dusted his mat, and headed homewards, without even saying goodbye to his expectant wife… From generations to generations, communication has evolved and will continue to do so, surprising each generation after the other. The graphic design of a recent cover of the Economist has Apple boss Steve Jobs holding two iPads on either arm. The headline was The Book of Jobs but the image was that of Moses returning from the mountain with two stone tablets – each as big as the iPad – in his hands.
The book should die, if it must, as soon as possible. For one, it will remove the pressure of traditional publishing, and an author of a short story in an anthology of eleven might not have to wait forever to lay his hands on the first copy of such a work. Where does the book get off with that distinct characteristic of charm that breeds suspense, and an always pleasing first touch, smell and feel? Try as we may, that first touch never fails to surprise and to please. Yet I protest. How many words does it take to write a novel? Forty to a hundred thousand? How many words have I written on this blog so far? Over two hundred and twenty- seven thousand words and over a thousand nine hundred pictures. Bollocks! Die book, die! A magazine editor won’t publish an already blogged poem. Bollocks. A newspaper requires exclusive rights to published articles and won’t allow for reprints on the author’s blog. Die book, die!
But who am I kidding? Until the Nobel Committee decides on a day in the distant future to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to an author that writes using only the blogging medium will that day have truly come when the book is totally dead. And members of that Nobel Committee would have to have been first generation digital natives, born and bred in the world of hypertext. Until then, maybe we could do with a little amendment to the criminal code that gives the opportunity of only a phone call to an arrested suspect. If you want to arrest and lock me up, why don’t you give me internet access instead. All I need is twenty minutes for my next post, then you can have me in for all the time you want. At least until the next day when the next blogging cycle begins.
The book is dead. Of course it’s not. But long live its very many other manifestations, including the one you’re now reading.