Review: The Book
While it has the lofty pretentions (and near constant references) of great dystopian novels like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, The Book ultimately falls flat. For starters, the premise of the story is ridiculous: in this future society, all paper books have been destroyed in the "Great Recycling" and replaced with e-readers that the government controls and feeds content to. This radically pro-environmentalist society is somehow founded on the belief that paper (a renewable resource that is easily recycled) is more dangerous to the environment than e-readers (made from all manner of non-renewable metals that are extremely damaging to the environment to extract, not to mention the environmental cost of the electricity needed to power them). Really? This highly implausible future seems to be fueled by the author’s own anti-environmental ideology, something that I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with had it been handled with a little more energy and conviction (think Robert A. Heinlein). The two main protagonists bond over the fact that they don’t care about the environment – but why? This seems like a fairly key element to understanding their motivation for rebelling against their society, but it’s just glossed over.
The feeling of "glossing over" is a by-product of the author’s writing style. The author spends an inordinate amount of time describing things rather than showing them to the reader. Almost nothing we learn about the protagonist (Holden) comes through his actions or his interactions with other characters – all of his background comes in dull expository dumps. We learn, for instance, that Holden grows in confidence as he moves along in his journey, ultimately becoming the leader of his little group. But rather than show us this growth to interpret for ourselves, the author just tells us this and moves along.
As for the plot itself, it’s not nearly as terrible. Holden learns of the shenanigans of the Book and the how the government uses it to observe and control its population. He rebels, finds allies, and gets punished by said government. With such uninteresting characters, it’s hard to really care at all what happens to them, but the various twists and turns at least provided some engagement in this dull book.
My biggest problem, however, is that The Book espouses the simpleminded idea that the trustworthiness of a work is determined by its medium of delivery – simply because a printed work is less easily changed, it cannot be controlled or manipulated. I’m guessing the author has never walked into a paper bookstore and seen a "revised and updated" edition, because paper can be changed as well! If anything, technology in publishing (from the printing press to the PC) has nearly always been a source of democratization.
Whether you prefer a printed book or a digital one is ultimately an issue of personal preference, not an issue of validity.