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.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica goes Digital

Last week NPR reported on the decision by the publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica to shift from print-and-digital to an all-digital format. According to the report, this will be the first time in 244 years that the Encyclopedia will not be available in print form.

The NPR story quotes from a New York Times article, which clearly delineates the Encyclopedia Britannica as one of America's iconic books:
In the 1950s and 1960s, a set of encyclopedias on the bookshelf was akin to a station wagon in the garage or a black-and-white Zenith in the den, an object coveted not only for its usefulness but as a goalpost for an aspirational middle class. The books were often a financial stretch, with many families paying for their encyclopedias in monthly installments.

Indeed, I remember how fiercely proud my late mother was of our set of the Britannica. For her, it was a mark of our intellectual credibility. We may have been poor, but we were educated--and owning a set of the Britannica (and not just relying on the local library) was a tangible marker of that status.

My mother passed away in 2009, and being her only child, the task fell to me to sift through her possessions. I made the decision to part with the set of Encyclopedia Britannica, now more than thirty years out of date. There have been many days, however, when I have second-guessed that decision. Should I have kept them? Not for what they contained, but for what they meant, to my mother, and to me, all those years.

To me, there is no better criteria for the iconic status of a book (or set of books) than this: that you would be willing to make space in your life for them for no other reason than their sentimental value; not even for what they meant to me, but for what they meant to somebody else.

Monday, March 19, 2012


This SCRIPT panel will take place at the AAR's EIR meeting in Waterloo, ON:
May 4, 4:00-6:00

Panel: The Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts (SCRIPT)

Room: REN 1404
  • David Dault, Christian Brothers University: "On a Controlled Bibliographic Vocabulary for SCRIPT and its Related Organizations: A Response to Deirdre Stam"
  • James W. Watts, Syracuse University: "Relic Books"
  • Karl Ivan Solibakke, Syracuse University: "Identity, Mimesis and Script: Walter Benjamin's Mimetic Function Revisited"


This SCRIPT-themed session took place at the SECSOR meeting in Atlanta on March 4, 2012:
Theme: Theology of the Book
Steven R. Harmon, Gardner-Webb School of Divinity, presiding
  • David Dault, Christian Brothers University: "‘This way of living is different from communism because...’: The Ideological Control of Scriptural Interpretations of Acts 4 in the Editorial Rhetorics of Popular Study Bibles"
  • Dorina Miller Parmenter, Spalding University: "Portraits of America’s Iconic Book
  • Kelly West Figueroa-Ray, University of Virginia: "Twisted Scriptural Tokens: The Bible According to Jerry Falwell"