Five Books about Book History: Suggested by Dr. Leslie Howsam
The “book” in “book history” is an umbrella term for everything from marks on stone, to handwriting on parchment, to printed books and magazines, to new digital media. Book history looks at how written communication has been composed, mediated, and received, how it has survived, and how it changes over time. Novelists, historians, librarians and literary critics have written about it, and I’ve chosen five of their books to show you how interesting it can be.
Dr. Leslie Howsam is University Professor in the Department of History at Uwindsor, where she teaches British history and the history of the book. Dr. Howsam is the author or editor of six books, including Old Books and New Histories: an orientation to the study of book and print culture (2006) and Past into Print: the publishing of history in Britain 1850-1950 (2009). She is currently president of SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing.
People of The Book: A Novel, by Geraldine Brooks (Viking Press, 2008)
The heroine of this novel is a rare-book expert who is asked to examine a rare and beautiful work called the Sarajevo Haggadah. The story traces and (because it’s fiction) embellishes the true story of an extraordinary book, but the details of restoration and conservation are remarkably accurate. The clues include an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a single hair.
Call # On Order.
Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, by James A. Secord (University of Chicago Press, 2001)
The world knows so much about Darwin that we have forgotten about another book on evolution that made a huge sensation in early Victorian Britain. Historian James Secord tells an important story about scientific ideas by tracing traces the genesis, production, distribution and reception of a single book whose author remained anonymous, and hence a matter for gossip and speculation.
Call # QH363 .S4 2000
Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing, by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman (University of Toronto Press, 2010)
Gorgeously illustrated, this book takes us back to the 18th century and forward to the 21st to show how writers and illustrators, and children and their parents, have experienced the genre of illustrated children’s literature in its Canadian manifestation. The authors, scholars of librarianship and English, spent over a decade researching in archives, and interviewing authors, publishers, booksellers and readers.
Call # Z 484 .E39 2010
A feeling for books: the Book-of-the-Month Club, literary taste, and middle-class desire, by Janice Radway (University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
Everyone of a certain age knows about the Book-of-the-Month Club, but Radway’s book will make you think about it in a different way. Radway combines a social-science research method with personal memories of BOMC membership. She uses the theoretical concept of the “middlebrow” to explain the appeal of the “club” that told people in Canada and the US what to read and how to read it.
Call # Z1003.2 .R33 1997
Endymion Spring, by Matthew Skelton (Puffin, 2006)
This fantasy novel for children is appealing to adults, too. It tells the story of Gutenberg’s apprentice (named Endymion Spring) back in the 1450s, and of two kids in 21st century Oxford who discover a mysterious and magical book in the Bodleian Library.
Call # PS8637.K455 E53 2006