The History of Not-Reading

As one whose shelves were once littered with not-reading, I liked this. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The history of reading,” [Leah] Price says, “really has to encompass the history of not reading.”
Anyone who has ever displayed a trophy volume on the coffee table knows that people do many things with books besides read them. A book can be deployed as a sign of intellectual standing or aspiration. It can be used to erect a social barrier between spouses at a breakfast table or strangers on a train. It can be taken apart and recycled or turned into art. Price’s recent work recreates Victorians’ many extratextual uses of books.

I’m fascinated by how the scare of an e-book takeover and the rise of tablets have swung the pendulum of attention to the book-as-artifact. These bricks of paper are obviously more than the ink on their pages.

8 thoughts on “The History of Not-Reading”

  1. I have books on Kindle but I’m not giving up on deadtrees books. Of the last three books I got, one was Kindle and two were paper.

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  2. One possibility is that e-books will liberate books to become an art-form again. Remember the cheap-ass glued-up binding books from the mid-80s that simply fall apart? They were made as cheaply as possible.
    I do photography as a hobby and while it’s traditional for “real photographers” to sneer at digital photography, I love it because digital has broken advertising and family snapshottery off the field, and left film-based and alternative processes as an art-form (or at least a craft) again.
    I love books. If I could have a do-over, I’d have learned how to do book-binding.

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    1. I think you’re right. I think more focus will be put on what that physical object is or can be, and its potential value can be extracted.

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  3. One possibility is that e-books will liberate books to become an art-form again. Remember the cheap-ass glued-up binding books from the mid-80s that simply fall apart? They were made as cheaply as possible.

    I’m sure there’s still going to be a printing/binding industry, though probably significantly fewer (and larger) companies than there already are which stay in business. I could definitely see how it might make some people more interested in doing it on a smaller-scale; but as long as there’s an industry, there’ll be cheap-ass books to gather dust, square up shaky tables, serve as toilet paper when you’re too lazy to go to the store, etc.

    I do photography as a hobby and while it’s traditional for “real photographers” to sneer at digital photography, I love it because digital has broken advertising and family snapshottery off the field, and left film-based and alternative processes as an art-form (or at least a craft) again.

    I don’t think it’ll work that way with printed books. Most people have no interest in making books, the way they like making photographs (photo albums/scrapbooks don’t count of course). Nearly everyone is already a consumer but not a producer, so lots of the producers we have (i.e., giant corporations) using digital and not printed books probably won’t have a very big effect on what most of the market is like. All of the crappy digital content Joe-Schmoe-who-doesn’t-run-a-giant-corporation is now empowered to make/write will probably stay in blog comments like this, Facebork, Twitter, video games, etc. :-/
    I think of this as big record companies switching over to (primarily) selling mp3s: most of the music people listen to isn’t going to change, not for that reason, because big record companies are what they are: they sell easily-disposable popular music for the (unwashed/washed) masses. Most of the music people make (which any significant number of people will ever hear) won’t change much because of it either. Of course, there’ll still be individuals and independent labels releasing vinyl and CDs (or a similar format), some of which might be really great; but the aesthetically-oriented high-quality-in-every-way stuff is (always?) going to be a tiny little piece of the market, for all sorts of reasons — because people don’t make it or buy it very much.

    If I could have a do-over, I’d have learned how to do book-binding.

    You’re going to need one of these puppies to print all the pages you’re going to bind. 😉

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  4. I spent my teen years devouring library books that had to be returned, so I never understood people who got books just to sit on the table collecting dust. Why have a book if not to read it, especially after paying for it? I heard the claim about Hawking’s “Brief History of Time” being the best selling unread book, but come on….
    Stephen Vizinczey (“A Writer’s Ten Commandments”) makes a good argument for re-reading books, especially rules 6 and 7
    :
    http://stephenvizinczey.com/novels_truth.htm#excerpt
    I buy ebooks to reduce bulky, to read things that I don’t need quickly or immediately. My printed books consist of reference books (e.g. phrase books, quick-refs, encyclopaedias), work materials (e.g. teaching, language) and hard-to-replace literature or things I prefer to see on paper (e.g. Tintin and Elfquest collections).

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