I’ve been doing something new (or at least new to me) this year: I’ve been trying to keep track of all the books I read. Actually I only started doing this around the 18th of April, but I’ve managed to reconstruct the list for pretty much all of this year so far. But I do have one problem: I can’t quite define ‘book’ in a way that really satisfies me.
I’ll give you an example of the problems I’m running into. If we go simply by binding method then Quidditch Through The Ages, a 56 page (in my 2001 edition) Harry Potter tie in produced on behalf of Comic Relief, would count as a book. Yet while I have read it recently (it took about half an hour at most), adding it to the list somehow seems wrong.
Yet while I’ve read several National Geographic Magazines, around 140 pages each, adding them feels wrong to. Because they are, as the title says, magazines. But while adding a 56 page novelty book feels wrong, and so does adding a 140 page magazine, I had no doubts at all about adding Christopher Hitchens’s critical biography of mother Teresa (provocatively entitled “The Missionary Position”), even though at some 95 pages it’s not exactly a huge volume.
So length alone clearly isn’t a good way to define a book. But the question remains whether there is a good answer to the question “What constitutes a ‘book’?” What, in other words, gives a book its bookish essence. But perhaps there is no good answer beyond the famous statement of U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart when asked to define ‘hard core pornography’: “I know it when I see it”.