The Book

In the interest of exploring more independent authors, I recently purchased a novel called The Book - one of 250 works to make it the quarterfinals for the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  I should disclose that I went to college with the author, but we've been out of touch for several years, so I was surprised and intrigued to hear of his new-found status as an author.  I was fully prepared to separate any negative feelings about the writing from my opinions on the writer, but my trepidation was needless as The Book was one of the best novels I have read this year.  Below is my review:
Four simple words begin the narrative of M. Clifford's The Book: "Don't Read The Book".

What bibliophile can resist a challenge such as that? With a slight smirk I eagerly defied those words and plunged onward into the world of Holden Clifford - an intriguing dystopia in which environmental laws have banned paper and all literature and news media are conveniently conveyed to audiences via digital hand-held devices, portable and personal, each one called The Book. Holden, like his Salinger namesake, is a character caught existing rather than truly living and right from the start - as I, too, used a novel to shroud myself from a daily Chicago commute - I found myself empathizing with him and silently hoping for whatever would break him from his mundane life.

Holden's awakening comes in a Chicago bar called The Library, a tribute to the recycled book pages that wallpaper the venue. Upon seeing his name on an antique page from his favorite book, Holden's eyes are opened, not only to the powerful mystique of the printed word, but to the alterations from the original text that exist in the digital version he read his whole life.

M. Clifford's writing style is fresh and unique. The gripping story proves him to be an expert storyteller, beautifully weaving together political intrigue, suspenseful action, intricate relationships, and philosophical discussion. His descriptive techniques encourage the reader to engage with the writing - to enjoy the language as much as the story. It is a novel to be both savored and devoured. There are books which are meant to be read, respected, and reshelved, but The Book is one which lingers in my mind after the final pages have been viewed. It is a conversation starter as much as a story, drawing on themes such as the benefits and pitfalls of technology. Clifford's work sheds light on new thoughts and raises unanswerable questions but it could just be that the resolution is not nearly as valuable as the inquiry.
 The questions that this book sparks about the digital revolution in the publishing industry are the foundation of conversations I have had multiple times in the break room at work, on the train or the bus in the city, and even in my online book club.  Though I don't own one, I see the inherent handiness of devices such as the Kindle, the Nook, Sony's eReader, and the iPad.  (My reasons for not owning one are strictly financial ones - I would adore the convenience but I fear that my book-buying budget for the year would be spent in a matter of weeks with the convenience of one touch shopping.)  But I'd love to raise the conversation here.

Do you have a digital reading device and what do you see as the advantages/disadvantages compared to paper books?  Do you think that the prevalence of digital books has changed or will change society's views on the value of the printed word?

13 Response to "The Book"

  1. Captain Nick Sparrow says:
    May 6, 2010 at 8:45 PM

    I'm a paper fan. I never entertained thoughts of owning a kindle, but ever since the Fahrenheit 451 shenanigans I am definitely not interested!

  2. Melody says:
    May 6, 2010 at 9:24 PM

    I owned an e-reader for about 3 days. It would not download anything correctly and the library for it wouldn't download to my computer. I found it frusterating. I have entertained thoughts about trying a nook or kindle for the pure fact the I would be able to take my whole library everywhere without breaking my back lol. I also thought it would be very convinent to have as it would quickly allow me to purchase books. But on the other hand I would miss the feeling I get browsing through the book store, the smell of the paper books (yes, I am strange and yes, I do like the smell of a well loved book), and the feel of the cover in my hands. Not to mention the cover illustrations! So for now I have opted to stick with paper books, no one will ever make me give them up! Never! But if for some reason I do buy a nook or Kindle I will still keep the paper books that I own because I love them :)

  3. lisa :) says:
    May 7, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    Hmmm... I'm a little surprised that the Blogging crowd isn't more pro-technology, but I too am decidedly pro-paper. I do love the look, smell, and feel of paper books. I was once mocked for running into a book store and actually stroking the spine of a newly released hardcover. (In my defense it was third in a trilogy and had a shiny cover where as the first two books had matte finishes.)

    But conversely, it would be remarkably nice to carry an 800 page book around with the space and weight of a much slimmer volume. Or to cart around an entire series and be able to reference earlier books as I was reading the latest installment.

    Plus there is the pro-green movement side of things. I like the idea of limitless books with no damage to trees. Truthfully, I would love to see more publishers printing books on recycled paper and I don't know why that doesn't seem to happen...

  4. lisa :) says:
    May 7, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    And I should mention, if anyone's looking to score a free copy of The Book, there's a really neat contest going on over at The Next Best Book Blog:

  5. M. or W.W. says:
    May 8, 2010 at 6:58 PM

    Hi Lisa!

    Thank you so much for the post! I'm with you on your reason for not currently owning an eBook reader. Those things are just to dang expensive! My stance on the whole paper vs. digital topic for my personal library is this: I will always want to own paper books. I love them. I love to see bookshelves full of them, spanning entire walls. It makes me happy. However, I LOVE the "portable library" concept of the eBook readers too. So, I think I will make my book collection the same as my music collection. I still own all my CD's, but my music is all duplicated digitally for my iPod. When I'm in my car, I listen to my CD's, but when I go on vacation, I take all the same music and it all fits into one, nice, tiny, little iPod. Very handy. I see no reason (other than $$) that I couldn't double-own all my books.

    I think the only reason I would ever choose digital over paper is when a new book comes out that I've been dying to read, but it's only in hardcover and it's like a million pages long (ie: The Deathly Hallows, Gabaldon's And Echo in the Bone, etc.). Those books are just too cumbersome to enjoy reading in hardcover. They're heavy and while they might be fine to read while sitting at a table, it becomes rather uncomfortable to try holding one up over your face while lying in bed. My arms ain't that strong, yo! I think the 10.2 oz of a Kindle sounds much easier than the 2.6 lbs of Rowling's most recent title!!


  6. TNBBC Super Mod says:
    May 9, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Lisa, thank you so much for posting about my giveaway for two copies of THE BOOK!

    I have fought the digital book craze so far, and for many reasons. #1- the price. #2- how quickly the current ones are shown up by newer and better ones. #3- I am an unapologetic book whore. I love to buy, read, smell, and show off my paper copies. If I were to eventually give in and buy an eReader, I would end up buying the book twice (once, digitally, and once to shelve it).....

    The artful covers, the rustling of the pages, the text and formatting....

  7. TNBBC Super Mod says:
    May 9, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    btw, I read THE BOOK and absolutely loved it. Easily one of the best I've read in a long time!

  8. Greg McConnell says:
    May 10, 2010 at 9:18 PM

    Really cool to learn that Mike Clifford wrote a novel! I'll have to read it sometime. I remember Mike and Grant singing at church in college, and they were always really nice people.

    The whole digital v. paper book discussion is fascinating. I love the traditional books. It's also kinda fun to go through used book stores and dig through old books. But at the same time, that's what I grew up with. The next generation of kids will have known cell phones and touchscreens for their entire lives. If we were to go 10 years into the future and visit a typical elementary school classroom, I wonder what type of books (digital or paper) those kids will primarily be reading?

    BTW, full disclosure: I don't own an e-Reader yet...

  9. M. or W.W. says:
    May 11, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    Hi Greg! Just "followed" you at your behind the curtain blog. Sounds really great! If you're interested in following my blog too, you can find it at:


  10. Greg McConnell says:
    May 12, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    Good to hear from you, Mike. And thanks for following my blog. I'm looking forward to following your blog as well!

  11. lisa :) says:
    May 12, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    TNBBC - Thanks for dropping by! I have yet to offer any giveaways of my own so I'm happy to advertise for others!

    Greg - Great question about what school kids will be using years from now. I remember in college having to shell out $100+ for a new Calculus book only to find at the end of the semester that the future classes were using the next edition and the buyback value of mine was only $5. It was a waste of money and paper and it would be interesting to see updateable (is that a word?) teaching materials. Could you imagine a history textbook that would add in the new president on Inauguration Day? It's cool stuff to think about. And these types of scenarios are explored in The Book so I think you would like it!

    Mike- I would *love* to see publishers jumping on the digital AND hard copy bandwagon. I'm a big Disney fan and I recently received as a gift one of my favorite movies, The Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-Ray. It was really neat because the disc came with a code that, when entered online, provided a digital copy of the movie to be watched on a computer or a digital video device. It got me thinking about how neat it would be to buy a book to keep in a home library and have it come with a digital version to read on the go. (Of course then we might have to start shrink-wrapping books the way they do Blu-Ray discs...)

  12. M. or W.W. says:
    May 14, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    Lisa - that's a fantastic idea! Now how do we get the publishers and the bookstores to agree and start selling them that way......?

  13. Just Another Pre-Med says:
    May 17, 2010 at 8:48 PM

    Late to the bandwagon here, but that is exactly how I feel Lisa! I really love being able to read whatever books I want on the train but, at the end of the day, I want the hard copy, the thrill and intense langour of the search for the book inside Border's, and the smell of library/bookstore in my house once I've found a new glorious read. This should definitely be implemented. I concur, and will sign any petitions to begin selling books this way. :D

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