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new “Case for Books” by Robert Darnton

October 20, 2009

The Case for Books

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future by historian Robert Darnton (PublicAffairs, 2009).

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

The invention of writing was one of the most important technological, cultural, and sociological breakthroughs in human history. With the printed book, information and ideas could disseminate more widely and effectively than ever before—and in some cases, affect and redirect the sway of history. Today, nearly one million books are published each year. But is the era of the book as we know it—a codex of bound pages—coming to an end? And if it is, should we celebrate its demise and the creation of a democratic digital future, or mourn an irreplaceable loss? The digital age is revolutionizing the information landscape. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexandria, making available millions of texts for a curious reader at the click of a button, and electronic book sales are growing exponentially. Will this revolution in the delivery of information and entertainment make for more transparent and far-reaching dissemination or create a monopolistic stranglehold?

In The Case for Books, Robert Darnton, an intellectual pioneer in the field of the history of the book and director of Harvard University’s Library, offers an in-depth examination of the book from its earliest beginnings to its shifting role today in popular culture, commerce, and the academy. As an author, editorial advisor, and publishing entrepreneur, Darnton is a unique authority on the life and role of the book in society. This book is a wise work of scholarship—one that requires readers to carefully consider how the digital revolution will broadly affect the marketplace of ideas.

See also:

More new releases in Books & Reading

Barnes & Noble’s upcoming ebook reader

Comments (0) - culture,new books,reading

“The shadow life of reading” – Sven Birkerts, ‘The Gutenberg Elegies’

June 28, 2009

The Gutenberg Elegies

The shadow life of reading begins even while we have the book in hand—begins as soon as we move from the first sentence to the second and start up a memory context. The creation and perpetuation of this context requires that we make a cognitive space, or “open a file,” as it were. Here is the power, the seductiveness of the act: When we read, we create and then occupy a hitherto nonexistent interior locale. Regardless of what happens on the page, the simple fact that we have cleared room for these peculiar figments we now preside over gives us a feeling of freedom and control. No less exalting is the sensation of inner and outer worlds coinciding, going on simultaneously, or very nearly so. … The book is there, waiting, like one of those rare dreams that I half-awaken from and then reenter. Knowing that I have the option of return, this figurative space within the literal space I occupy, changes my relation to that literal space. I am still contained in the world, but I don’t feel trapped in it. Reading creates an imaginary context which then becomes a place of rescue.

Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, p. 98

Comments (0) - reading

No such thing as too many books!

June 20, 2009

The Polysyllabic Spree

In The Polysyllabic Spree, p 124-125, Nick Hornby is commenting on ‘So Many Books’ by Gabriel Zaid: “Zaid’s finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that ‘the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.'”
So Many Books
Hornby continues: “That’s me! And you, probably! That’s us! “Thousands of unread books”! “Truly cultured”!…. I suddenly had a little epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. …. With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

And now, with LibraryThing and similar services, I can create a library that isn’t limited to the books I own, but can include books I’ve borrowed from the library, or no longer own, or those I just might want to read some day.

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

The Polysyllabic Spree is the first book in a series collecting Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns for The Believer, followed by Housekeeping vs. the Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money

See also: “books about books” at LibraryThing

Comments (5) - reading

Kindle 2 update plus “MyAlltop”

March 17, 2009

More books with Kindle editions:

The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger

and Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan

Shortcuts, Tips & Tricks from Amazon Kindle’s Blog
— and more from GeekTonic (Minesweeper?)

Feedbooks has books that can be downloaded to the Kindle plus a way to turn RSS feeds into Kindle files that can be updated. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but it sounds like it could be useful. (See “Help: Kindle” at Feedbooks).

A non-Kindle-related item:

Alltop now offers the ability to create a custom Alltop page at “MyAlltop”. (“http://my.alltop.com/mymindonbooks” is coming soon; got the account, just haven’t put anything there yet.)

Comments (1) - reading

new job and Kindle 2

March 8, 2009


I recently started a new full time job after being laid off for eight months. The job offer came along about the time that the Kindle 2 was announced, so I decided to treat myself (….for the commute, of course….). I’ve had the Kindle for a little over a week now, coinciding with my first week of work.

I find reading on the Kindle very comfortable; plus, those times when I don’t get a seat on the BART train, I can easily read with one hand. Also the basic web browsing with 3G wireless seems like a great feature for those times when there isn’t a handy WiFi hotspot. Anyone who’s traveled with a heavy suitcase stuffed with reading material might appreciate being able to load up a lightweight Kindle instead.

Some recent books that have Kindle editions include:
How We Decide
Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average

Kindle resources that I’ve found so far (please let me know of others in the comments):

Kindle Boards
Joe Wikert’s Kindleville Blog
The Kindle Reader blog

Comments (1) - reading