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Darwinian publishing and the future of the novel.

By MICHAEL AGRESTA [Slate] – As we move into the digital age, the well-made copy has come to occupy a familiar, almost nostalgic middle ground between the aura of an original and the ghostly quality of a computer file. A mass-produced paper book, though bulkier and more expensive, may continue to be more desirable because it carries with it this material presence. And presence means something—or it can, at least, in the hands of a good book designer.

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The mechanical reproduction of literary texts is a very old story—more than 500 years old. Printed books were an early experiment in the mass production of art. Out of that successful venture, among other literary advances, the novel was born. Writers like Cervantes recognized and realized the potential of the printed book, that ingenious device for delivering stories and ideas to an idle provincial reader.

The story of Don Quixote features countless printed books, and the entire novel can be read as a commentary on and intellectual advancement of that revolutionary technology. Is it any more appropriate to consume Quixote on an e-reader than it is to, say, watch a colorized, 3-D Citizen Kane?

This question points to a second possible mode of survival for the paper book in the digital age. Purists will argue that some important texts ought to be read in their original form. This may be especially convincing when it comes to the novel, a literary form so bound up in the history of the printed book—and, by many accounts, well past its golden age as the digital transition begins.

Continued at Slate | More Chronicle & Notices.

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