Passive Voice reproduces and comments upon a piece by Lisa Gitelman from Public Books entitled What is a Book? It must betoken a certain attitude when an author finds herself writing “Now, books are just widgets in the grand scheme of things”. A widget, a small mechanical device of unspecified purpose, surely is not what a book is under any circumstances. Could it perhaps qualify when used to prop up a table with one short leg? Is Ms Gitelman really trying to say that it’s the content that’s important not the format? Don’t think so. I suspect she’s actually signaling that she just doesn’t care. What really interests her is the manuscript/typescript/computer disk or file which lies behind the book.

I dare say that there’s some interest in whether an author writes in pencil on ruled yellow paper, or with a typewriter on cheapo-cheapo bumph, but I’m far from convinced that the fact that Toni Morrison employed someone who did word-processing for her makes any real difference to the book which is Beloved (in title and reception). Archivists of course have to get off on this sort of thing, and I dare say someone is already working towards a PhD on how the chosen tools of origination affect the quality of a novel. If only James Joyce had had a random word generator, or Homer a Dictaphone, or Shakespeare a typewriter and some carbon paper. I did observe, by living through it, that the introduction of the word processor lead quickly to a growth in the average page count of academic books. This effect did not necessarily improve the product.