PRINT November 1991



AS MATERIAL OBJECTS they are almost worthless. Their specific gravity is high, and to carry even a few of them can be an uncomfortable matter. If you move, transporting your books costs more than they’re worth, and rearranging them in their new home is a nightmare. Books are a burden measurable in kilos, cubic feet, and hours. We submit to them as to an addiction: we seem in permanent need of their strings of letters, opening them up again and again to pick some of those letters out.

A Martian, in fact, or some other illiterate, might suppose that a book is a vast heap from which we gather letters one by one. The term, “literature,” which means “a lot of letters,” would only confirm that opinion. We addicts know better: a book piles up letters only for the information encoded in their arrangement. This is its value: as information, or software. Some books contain very valuable information.

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