Reports of the death of reading are greatly exaggerated Do you worry that you've lost patience for anything longer than a tweet? If so, you're not alone. Digital-age pundits warn that as our appetite for books dwindles, so too do the virtues in which printed, bound objects once trained us: the willpower to focus on a sustained argument, the curiosity to look beyond the day's news, the willingness to be alone. The shelves of the world's great libraries, though, tell a more complicated story. Examining the wear and tear on the books that they contain, English professor Leah Price finds scant evidence that a golden age of reading ever existed. From the dawn of mass literacy to the invention of the paperback, most readers already skimmed and multitasked. Print-era doctors even forbade the very same silent absorption now recommended as a cure for electronic addictions. The evidence that books are dying proves even scarcer. In encounters with librarians, booksellers and activists who are reinventing old ways of reading, Price offers fresh hope to bibliophiles and literature lovers alike.
(As is my custom with something I don't finish, I won't give it a rating.)
Perhaps the problem is with my expectations. I thought the book would be tightly structured. Such a framework would help me see the connections that Professor Price was trying to make. But the chapters were not distinct enough from one another. Although the chapters dealt with different aspects of book history, I felt like I was reading the same chapter over and over.
In spite of my reaction, I think Professor Price makes some very good points about the history of reading and the history of the book as a physical object. I would recommend this book to people who prefer a more free-form discussion of this fascinating topic.
There is a lot to unpack in this, and its done very well. This easily would be a 3.5 on LibraryThing where here I give it a 3. A lot of good information, a lot of fun snarkyness, and a lot of fun interesting side notes, anecdotes, and general facts and informative quips and nuggets of factoids. There is definitely a lot of good in this book and a lot of stuff to make you go "hmmm". It is interesting to see a history of books and how things went from animal skin to onion skin to paper, etc. And how that changed how books were made, why they were made, etc.
It also puts the constant (in this day and age) repeat of "digital media is killing books" into perspective. And as some of her stats and factoids show, this isn't the case, now or in previous few years, and most likely not (at least for now) for a while.
There is no denying the author's expertise on the subject of books, and she writes with a delightful and engaging style. For me, the problem with her thesis is that her focus on the individual book all but blinds her to the possibility that books in groups (e.g., the library) display emergent properties that are not reducible to the book.
Admittedly she is inconsistent in this position, so she may perhaps disagree that she thinks this at all. For example, she writes that "my husband and I didn't really feel the weight of our vows until, unloading volumes from one final U-Haul, we started to interfile." Nothing she's told us about books, however explains this common reaction to dispersing a collection. In fact, she's spent the whole book telling us why it shouldn't happen, since print books are not that different from ebooks, which one does not collect at all.
The intention to dispel the reverence for the print book, even if warranted, should not lead her to imply a similar lack of unique value to books in the aggregate. By her own description, she is a historian of the book, but not of libraries, and she should recognize her myopia on this greater topic.