It's December so it's time for end of year wrap-ups, reviews and best-of summaries. Which you'll get eventually from me, but I thought it would be more timely to share what I've been pondering the last few weeks.

Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on the first must-read book of 2012.

What exactly is a book? 

You saw that coming right? Of course.

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I don't mean, what's a book in terms of who wrote it and published it and what it means and what it does. I mean, what is a book NOW.

If I write or say the word "book," if you're like me, you think of a physical book. In my case, since the majority of my book-purchasing experience until lately was in the form of mass-market paperbacks, that's the image that pops into my mind. It's about 4-inches wide and 6-inches tall, the cover is soft, and it's an inch or two thick. I might even think specifically of the cover of the book I'm reading now when I think of a book in broad concepts.

The reason I'm pondering this is because I recently had a conversation about a new book-publication method and brought up the importance of cover art—and how romance readers who read digital books get pretty freaking irate when there's no cover. Sometimes there's a placeholder, like the publisher's logo or something, or there's just nothing. No cover.

This is problematic for me, to put it mildly, because I don't remember book titles. Really, I am so bad at it, it's embarrassing. I know editors and authors spend agonizing rounds of e-mail reply-all figuring out a title, but do I bother to remember it? No. It's about as sticky in my brain as the location of my house keys.

But I do remember, down to intricate detail, the cover art. There's an Anna Campbell book that I call "The Yellow One," because there's a model looking over her shoulder at the reader, and she's wearing a bright yellow dress. (I am That Patron that librarians dread, and I know this very well. I'm sorry.) There's a Maya Banks Harlequin Desire novel that I just loved, and I've recommended it to people multiple times. Do I remember the title? No. But the cover is red and yellow, the heroine is wearing a flowered dress, and I think there's a tycoon in the title.

tycoon The books I'm talking about above are Anna Campbell's My Reckless Surrender (Avon, 2010) and Maya Banks' The Tycoon's Rebel Bride (Harlequin, 2009) (yes, I did have to go look them up online).

My point here is, mentally, when I picture a book, I picture a rectangle. I don't picture a digital formation of text with some < or ? or other programming characters. I don't picture a store or a shelf. I picture a rectangle. Sometimes it's a three-dimensional rectangle, and other times it's just a rectangle, but I picture the physical object of a paperback book when I think of a "book," and when my digital books are organized (which is rarely) I always display them in a shelf formation so I can see as big a picture of the cover as possible.

Will that change? Possibly, but I still think that individual books will be represented visually as well as with words, because I and so many other readers remember the picture, not the words—the rectangle, not the format.

So when I see people harsh on digital books, especially in the holiday gift-giving season as people buy books and digital readers by the bushel (do they come in bushels? That would be a great gift-basket opportunity right there), I start thinking about that rectangle, and how my concept of what a book is remains unaffected by the format in which I'm reading. The rectangle, and what lies behind it, is the point, not whether it's three dimensional.

That's because whether it's a digital or touchable rectangle, my definition of reading has not changed. Reading is still the thing I do when my mental batteries need recharging, the activity during which I can drop out of everything stressful and relax happily without reservation. Reading is still my favorite thing to do, before everything else, including sleeping and eating. That will not change, even if the international symbol for book is a corkscrew (which would be fine, since I like books and wine). The shape of the book itself is not the point. The activity generated by the content of the book is everything.

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.