This blog does not often mention (or review) particular books – the blog is devoted to the pleasures of The Reading Life, rather than the merits or demerits of specific books – but sometimes An Exception Must Be Made.
A recent essay by Mark Athitakis in the Washington Post mentioned in passing a 2020 book by Jessica Pressman entitled Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Pressman’s introduction:
“. . . In the twentieth century, we no longer need books, physical codices, as reading devices. We have other means of reading, writing, communicating, and archiving. But that doesn’t mean some of us don’t want books. And that want manifests everywhere. Indeed, at the moment of the book’s foretold obsolescence because of digital technologies – around the turn of the millennium – we saw something surprising: the emergency of a creative movement invested in exploring and demonstrating love for the book as symbol, art form, and artifacts. . . . Cell-phone covers crafted to look like old books; decorative pillow printed with beloved book covers; earrings, rigns, and necklacs made of miniature codieces; store windows that use books as props; altered book sculptures exhibited in prestigious collections; and bookbound novels that revolve around a book as a central character. . . . Bookishness happens across countries, languages, media, and genres. This obsession with the materiality of books spans the spectrum from high art to absolute kitsch, and it signifies a culture grappling with its own increasing digitization.
The book has historically symbolized privacy, leisure, individualism, knowledge, and power. This means that the book has been the emblem for the very experiences that must be renegotiaed in a digital era: proximity, interiority, authenticity. So what happens when the books get digitized and bookish culture goes digital – when the word “book” may or may not refer to a material object? Bookishness signals a culture in transition but also provides a solution to a dilemma of the contemporary literary age: how to maintain a commitment to the nearness, attachment, and affiliation that the book traditionally represented now that the use value of the book has so radically altered. Books aren’t going anywhere, but they are being repurposed and reimagined. Our relationships to books are changing, and often the results are surprisinly poetic and generative.”
You can read Pressman’s entire introduction and read excerpts of reviews of Pressman’s book at Amazon. (Note: the book is available in hardback and in a digital edition.)