Check out a great review of Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts posted on Nigel Beale’s blog Nota Bene Books. In his review he says, “Though a stronger case than the one outlined can be made for e-books (what they will be capable of, how they will be able to record unique responses), and the importance of marginalia overstated (surely a notebook is a more efficient, capacious recorder of reader response and, as such, more valuable), Books as History ‘highlights an important aspect of the life of books in the context of the ongoing debate about their future,’ and as such, is well worth reading.” Thank you for an excellent review, Nigel! Click here to read more of the review, and click here to order Books as History.
The August issue of Fine Books Notes has an excellent review of David Pearson’s revised edition of Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts.
What do books offer us, beyond words, and how do their physical formats and design characteristics contribute to their overall impact? Where do we draw the line between the book as a text and the book as an object, something which cannot be entirely replicated by transferring the content to another medium?”
David Pearson, Director of Libraries, Archives, and Guildhall Art Gallery at the City of London, presents this set of questions and then explores the various ways that physical books speak to those who will listen—through the way they are printed, illustrated, bound, annotated, altered, or defaced. It is a topic of obvious importance to historians, curators, librarians, and book collectors, but also one that is becoming ever more crucial to a wider audience of people concerned with the idea of ‘libraries without books,’ and physical books versus e-books. Pearson persuades us that it is time to separate books from texts, and let them go their merry ways.
Click here to read more.
In addition, the newsletter also mentions our Catalogue 297 in the catalogues received section. Catalogue 297 is another that contains our new method of photography, displaying beautiful black-and-white images.
Click here to check out the new issue of Fine Books Notes.
Check out a review of Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts by David Pearson posted on the Booktryst blog of Stephen J. Gertz.
If every book tells a story, every book has a story.
Until recently, a book’s text and its physical manifestation were indivisible, their stories intertwined. With the advent of ebooks, however, text is now independent of what we’ve come to understand as a “book,” a physical object with metaphysical content that, in its origins, was presented as scrolled, later bound, manuscript, and then, with Gutenberg, as bound leaves of print.
A day cannot go by, it seems, without an article tolling the death knell of the book, either heralding a new, golden age of information delivery and consumption, or as a mournful elegy. Soon, it seems, lovers of traditional books will be consulting mediums to reach beyond the veil and communicate with beloved books in the great hereafter. We’ll want to know how they’re doing, tell them how much we love and miss them, and express sorrow for not defending them heartily enough when they were still with us but struggling for their lives. We need comfort and consolation.
In the absence of David Dunglas Home, the 19th century Scottish spiritualist and medium, David Pearson, Director of Libraries, Archives, and Guildhall Art Gallery at the City of London, is here to say, It’s okay…
Click here to read the full review. Thanks for an excellent review, Stephen!
While most people think of books in terms of their contents or texts, Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts by David Pearson explains that books possess qualities beyond their texts. He shows how books can be seen as designed or artistic objects. In this excerpt, Pearson discusses how bookbindings have developed and changed over the years, while adding various levels of uniqueness to books.
Every binding tells a story, whether it is deluxe or humble. Binders offered their customers a choice, a spectrum of options from the simple to the elaborate, and the preferences they exercised can tell us something both about them and about their approach to the texts inside the books. These choices applied not only to external, decorative qualities but also to structural ones; there are various ways in which it is possible to cut corners in the sewing or other internal features of a handmade binding, leading to a cheaper but less hardwearing product. Early instructions from patrons to bookbinders are scarce, but where they do survive they often stress the importance of sturdy sewing and good quality handiwork rather than handsome tooling.
Fancy bindings reveal owners who could afford to pay that bit extra, or perhaps people who wished to display their wealth or status on their bookshelves; or they may be covering books which were regarded as particularly important. Simpler bindings can be equally revealing of personal histories; many of the books owned by John Donne, when he was a struggling and impoverished poet, are bound in parchment wrappers rather than leather, the cheap (or softback) option of the time. Books have often been bound and rebound, or repaired, more than once during their history and those staging posts can indicate the changing regard for the texts inside. A book which has survived several centuries in pristine condition suggests a text which has not exactly been eagerly sought out. Many of the copies of Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio now found in libraries around the world are in top quality nineteenth-century bindings, reflecting the veneration in which that book then came to be held; the few copies (of more than 200 surviving) which retain contemporary bindings are mostly very plain. A seventeenth-century devotional text is much more likely to be found in a fine binding of its period than a literary one, in line with the values of that time, although we now consider literature to be far more important than theology.
A binding will not only carry these messages which we can interpret, but also more immediate information about where and when it was made. A wall of leather-bound books may at first glance look pretty uniform but although the basic materials and construction methods of bookbindings remained substantially unchanged for many centuries, the decorative conventions underwent steady change from one generation to another, in line with the ever shifting more general currents of ornamental fashion. Just as sixteenth-century architecture or silverware are recognisably different from their eighteenth-century equivalents, so bookbindings are visually distinctive from one generation to another. This applies not only to handsomely decorated fine bindings, but also to much simpler ones; a sixpenny binding of 1600 is not the same as one of 1700, or even 1650. Unlike printers, bookbinders only rarely signed their work and we cannot often identify individual craftsmen; they worked within the stylistic conventions of their day and neither the binders, nor their customers, looked for individuality of design. What we can do, however, is place a particular binding within its time and place – we can recognise that it is English, or German, or French, and approximately when it was made – and also say whereabouts, within the range of options of its time, it sits.
Learn even more about this book and hear a panel discussion on “Collecting the Physical Book in a Digital Age,” at the Grolier Club on April 5 from 4-7pm. Bob Fleck will be giving a presentation that includes references to Books as History, while other speakers including Gary L. Strong and David Rose also share their opinions. The discussion will be moderated by Susan M. Allen. Click here for more information on the event and click here for more information on Books as History. The revised, paperback edition will be available in May.