People of the Book is an interview series gathering those engaged with books, broadly defined. As participants answer the same set of questions, their varied responses chart an informal ethnography of the book, highlighting its rich history as a mutable medium and anticipating its potential future. This week brings the conversation to Brad Pasanek, assistant professor at the University of Virginia, whose work questions the “mind as metaphor” through hands-on literature, app-books, and digital humanities.
1. How do you define a “book”?
Almost immediately, I want to turn that question back: what isn’t a book? Or refer it to the eighteenth century, where I find the term coyly defined in Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum as “a thing well known” and extensively, in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, as “a volume in which we read or write.” The other book-people interviewed here (librarians, bibliographers, etc.) will be nicer of definition, I’m sure. But in an English department the book stands as a metonym of literature and learning. And it stands metaphorically for more besides. I call to mind commonplaces from antiquity and the Middle Ages: the book of the life, the Law written in the “tables of the heart.” Galileo and Bacon encouraged the Moderns to collate bibles and the codex naturae. The face is as legible as any page; infancy is a blank slate. And so on.