1.  “This is my book” = I am the author.

2. “This is my book” = I own it, I bought a copy.

3. “This is my book” = I am the publisher — I paid to create it.

4.  “This is my book” = I work for the publisher/printer/typesetter/literary agent responsible for creating this book (perhaps “our” would be more usual than “my” here).

5.  “This is my book” = This e-book is on the Kindle/iPhone/computer/e-reader that I own.

Does this tell us anything about the “book”?

Nos. 1 & 2 point to the difference between book as a container of ideas/culture, and book as a physical manifestation of this culture carrier.  War and Peace may be your favorite book, but the ratty paperback you have at home may be a horrid object. Maybe Tolstoy preferred Anna Karenina.  Maybe the most handsome book you have is that Corpus of Roman Coins, but you have of course absolutely no intention of reading it.

No. 3 focusses on the economics of the business and is likely to mean the book as physical object (one that can be sold) rather than 1, though when it comes to handing out Pulitzers, Bookers etc. the publisher will inevitably want to connect to 1 more than usual.  It goes without saying, but of course I have to say it, that without a solid economic rationale none of these different “books” would exist (I’m willing to argue about No. 1 too).

Nos. 2 & 4 seem to be pointing to the same physical object, but if you were the editor or the agent, you may be thinking of No. 1.

Is No. 5 more like 1 or 2?  It sort of straddles them both.  I suppose we do actually “own” a free download from Project Gutenberg, but it’s not quite the same relationship as those bits of paper and board on the shelf.

Maybe philosophers and linguists have sorted all this out, and at the end of the day, we all know what we mean.  But there are instances, and will be more of them in future, when we need to be clear, at least in our own mind, which of these we really want to mean when we speak about a book.

(Based on a conversation with Mike Rosenhack)