Sunday Book-Thought 98

Muted books take on a totemic significance. Because we can’t ‘read’ a book object or book sculpture, we see the idea of the book, a metaphor that has penetrated our culture so deeply it informs the language we use to describe ourselves. Though we’re taught not to ‘judge a book by its cover,’ an honest person is ‘an open book’ and a perceptive one can ‘read us like a book,’ while we might emulate either by ‘taking a page out of their book.’ ‘Bookworms’ metaphorically consume books’ ideas the way their namesake (actually not a worm but a kind of beetle larva) consumes their pages. Such bibliophiles might find themselves ‘marginalized.’ And we each carry an inner moral tome we consult before passing judgment on others with the phrase ‘In my book …’ We book a trip because such voyages were once entered into a volume, though now such records happen mostly online. Likewise our bookkeeper ‘balances the books’ even when using accounting software like QuickBooks to manage our finances. When studying for an exam, we ‘pound the books’ until we’re expert enough to say we ‘wrote the book’ on the subject. The book looms large in English idiom, standing in for the law (‘throw the book at ’em’), history (‘one for the booms’), and social norms (‘by the book’).
The language of the book as a space of fixity, certainty, and order reminds us that the book has been transmuted into an idea and ideal based on the role it plays in culture. Books are bedrock, and the rectilinear form has allowed us to envision them as the foundation of social order and self-actualization.
Amaranth Borsuk, The Book (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018), pp. 193-194.

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