Is a Book a Machine?

Is a book a machine? This is the question we may come to ask ourselves as avid readers in the beginnings of our research into literature. The book is more than just a machine, as we will find.  I’ve always firstly thought of a book as a physical object: a set of pages made of different materials (paper/wood/ivory/cloth), bound together in a certain order. It is a collection in content of different types of information represented by different sections. It is organized along each page through flow of line, build-up of lines on the page, and sequential movement through depth of page upon page.

And a machine? A machine is a mechanical device with parts working together for a specific purpose. Machines fascinate me in their intricacies, although I would never had thought of a book as being anything like a machine. But what I’ve come to find is that a book is in fact a machine first by the way it functions as a tool for capturing the flow of speech in the form of the printed word, then second by the way it stores the linguistic information by freezing it in time in the format of the page. The physical and mental interaction of the reader and the book, in the very act of picking it up and reading it, activates its very mechanism. Even more, it is not just a machine; it is a portable device of transmission.

In terms of form and function, the book is also experienced as more than a machine from different points of view. From the most fundamental standpoint, the page is the often-active background upon which language makes an impression on the reader in three-dimensional ways such as volume, sound, and picture. Typographical variations in elements such as spacing, word size, typesetting, and composition display examples in which language and lettering are rearranged to different outcomes, which in turn convey different meanings. The form (ex. prose, poetry, reference book, or popular fiction) varies to serve the function, depending on the type.

The book therefore is a machine in its great capacity to effect meaning, sensation and psychological experience to the reader and participant through construction and presentation of text. It is more than a machine in its ability to impart three-dimensionality of experience. I believe this is effective, because it enables the reader to experience the things that each piece may try to convey.

– Agnes Lee


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