How to do things with books

'And how is the value of books changing in an increasingly digital culture in which, depending on how you look at it, print is becoming either less or more valuable? Price suggests that we need to better understand the print “before” against which we position the digital “after”: too often, she argues, “we use idealized printed texts as a stick with which to beat real digital ones” in ways that “flatten the range of uses to which the book was put before digital media.” But as this book shows, the meanings of the book in Victorian Britain were just as diverse as the multiple uses to which books were put. By complicating the two-way distinction of text and book, Price above all suggests that the contemporary binary of print vs. digital is a false dichotomy, one which pushes us towards asking the wrong questions and creating all-too-simple answers. As Price ventures, the most interesting question to ask may be not “what the Victorians felt about the book but why they felt so much.” The same might be said of our feelings towards books – both print and digital – today. Books matter in every sense of the word, and better understanding “how to do things with books” can both enrich our study of the Victorian period and enliven our cultural debates today.'

- "Books Before and After" by Charlotte Mathieson, http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/?p=18726

timothywstanley@me.com