Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

Day by day through someone else’s life

Is the book — the solid, rectangular repository of the whole damn thing, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 32 — always and in principle the superior vehicle for a story?

Is the book — the solid, rectangular repository of the whole damn thing, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 32 — always and in principle the superior vehicle for a story?

Is the book — the solid, rectangular repository of the whole damn thing, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 32 — always and in principle the superior vehicle for a story? I ask because among readers of a reactionary cast of mind (among whom I sometimes count myself) an assumption has arisen that ‘the book’, the physical book, that satisfying lump of a thing you can hold in your hands, is the ideal, the Platonic ‘form’, the ultimate reality; while all other vessels for words — the Kindle, the audiobook, the broadcast or electronic instalment — are but shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave.

But travelling on the Continent over the past two weeks I have wondered not only whether the physical book is always the best but, more radically, whether it is in fact the primal Platonic form; or whether, rather, the book is not just another shadow on the cave’s wall; and in the Beginning is the Word.

I’ve been reading Mabel Eden’s diaries, transmitted in daily instalments (every midnight) online. I’ve been following a life lived in the late 19th century and early to mid-20th century, at about the same rate as she was living it. I don’t think of this as a book. Her diaries have never been and may never be printed as a book. How you first come to something may determine what it is you consider the ‘real’ thing; and the real thing for me is the midnight ping on my laptop promising the breakfast pleasure of living another day in somebody else’s life.

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