There’s an art to books. Not just in the writing but in the physical thing itself as well. A book, with meticulously laid out text, carefully bound leafs of paper, and well chosen covering, has always been an object of art. A scroll can be ornate and decorated but a book is a luxurious mess of craft affordances—thousands of tiny details that lend themselves being well attended. A book is a creation that rewards a creators patience and skill with an embodied beauty.
A book is an object of art.
And when you have an object of art, you have an art.
That art is the novel’s frame. To steal words from the deconstructionist ramblings of the bricoleur Derrida: a frame surrounds the painting, comments on it, defines its boundaries, separates it from its context, surrounds and envelops it, and yet is not a part of the work proper.
That’s what a book is to a novel. To say that a print book is the only real book is to say that you prefer the commentary to the story, the frame’s gilding to the painting, and the threshold to the house itself.
The author may have made the commentary, the artist may have framed the painting, and the threshold may have been chosen by the architect, but it isn’t the work itself.
Which isn’t to say that the novel can be separated from the book, just the opposite. No matter how many times you reformat, convert, scan, digitise, or remediate the novel, it always carries a ghost of the book with it, hanging on its bones like the wraith of a long lost love. No matter how thoroughly you debone a carcass, the meat and the skin will always be shaped and structured by the skeleton it grew on.
The novel, like all genres that originate in the book form, is defined by the book.