Book was There: A Review

by lisafthenakis

Image of Book was There

I just finished reading Book was There by Andrew Piper. As an ardent book lover, I was initially very worried that this would be another version of the ‘oh no, the book is dying’ or ‘long live the internet’ story, but I was pleasantly surprised. I suppose I should have known better given that he is a German and English literature professor. Piper truly loves books and he is as excited about their future as he is about the opportunities of the internet and electronic reading.

An attempt to understand the relationship between books and screens (xi)

He makes the point that books are just one of the ways we have written, read, and shared information over the years. The printed book was not the first way we read; before the printed book there were codexes, papyruses, and illuminated manuscripts. From this vantage point, it seems natural that the evolution of reading does not come to a stand still with the printed book. Each of these iterations had unique characteristics that changed the reading experience. He makes the point that while e-readers and websites are just another iteration in this evolution. They will join printed books as one medium of many that we use to communicate the written word.

Relating to reading in an embodied way (xiii)

Focusing on the physical experience of reading – how we hold books, their shape and size, where we read them – Piper explores what is unique about reading books and how reading on a screen changes that experience. Examining books as portals to other worlds and experiences; the linear, asynchronous quality of a printed book; notes and notetaking as a part of reading; the places where we read; and the opportunities of digitally analyzing text; he focuses on how the way we read changes our experience of reading and the subject itself. From this perspective, the complimentary nature of book and screen for future readers emerges.

Piper is excited about the new ways artists and authors are playing with the way we experience and understand books and finds hope in the new experience and deeper understanding that they create. Instead of seeing these innovations as replacing the book, he portrays them as a way to understand the book and its place in and impact on our lives more fully. They are part of an exciting new future that can embrace not only what the book is but also what these new forms of reading on screens might become as well. It is undeniable that reading on a screen changes the readers experience, but that does not have to become a loss. While we may not yet fully understand where this new experience will take us, it is to a place of abundance not scarcity. Piper persuasively argues that the growth of reading on screens does not mean that reading books will disappear, rather that we are gaining new ways of reading and sharing information. And that is never a bad thing.

So I wholeheartedly recommend this book – I had a great time reading it! Actually, I already have several times. It’s a good thing I have understanding friends.

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