Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stolow on Artscroll

Jeremy Stolow has written a fascinating analysis of the Orthodox Jewish publishing phenomenon, ArtScroll. In Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the Artscroll Revolution (University of California Press, 2010), he documents the history of ArtScroll, its products, and their appeal to buyers. He then applies the analytical models of the field of book history to show how this publisher's attention to the material look and feel of its books has powered its sales.
... through their material properties ArtScroll books can be seen to possess forces that strcuture and constrain the ways they are stored, read, displayed, or otherwise used in their designated social settings. This agency, embedded in thematerial design of the books themselves, is hardly incidental to the centrality ArtScroll texts are said to enjoy, whether in everyday life situations or in the ways ArtScroll is publicly imagined, discussed, embraced, or even rejected. (146)
This leads Stolow to draw some conclusions about religious books in today's rapidly changing book marketplace:
... books can be said to possess a material agency whereby, for example, a leather covering has the power to convey an affective charge through its signifiers of dignity, solemnity, and artisanal authenticity. Form this perspective, it would appear that the continued (and indeed growing) vitality of the market for printed books rests on a deeper set of cultural assumptions about what kinds of technologies and institutional frameworks are best suited to generate "authentic" religiosu experiences and to sustain the bonds of religious community. ... Far from being rendered obsolete as "old" media, today's printed books have been reinvented as viable means of exercising authority and securing legitimacy through the particular disciplines and habits and the connective tissues that constitute
text-centered religious community." (178)
It's a great read!

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