LITERATURE

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading

Basic. Aug. 2019. 224p. notes. index. ISBN 9780465042685. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781541673908. LIT
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Price (Harvard Univ.; Unpacking My Library) takes on the cultural mythology surrounding books and reading, and skewers the notion that either is on its way out. Debates today often concern format—print or electronic?—or attention—is our ability to concentrate in jeopardy owing to new technologies? Yet Price demonstrates these questions are well worn. Concepts of books, and how we interact with them, have been in flux and clouded by nostalgia throughout history. The modern, privately owned work is a relatively new concept. Previous media has included huge serial volumes, handbills (mass-produced and short lived), and recently, tablets. Price convincingly contextualizes trends, noting Facebook posts held up against Gutenberg’s Bible signal our doom, but those are apples and oranges. Comparing tweets to papal indulgences more accurately reflects reality. Price asks what a book is and does, and what reading is and does—and the answers are not (and never have been) identical.
VERDICT This clear-eyed exploration of the attitudes and trends around reading and books will likely provoke lively discussion. Recommended for anyone with an interest in these favorite forms of entertainment.

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