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.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading the Readers, Performing the Texts

Here is an interesting essay at the Chronicle, sparked by Leah Price's new book, How to do Things with Books in Victorian England. Jennifer Howard reviews:

Price sketches out a broad, shifting range of uses for books that go beyond just reading. Because paper was expensive and therefore precious in early 19th-century Britain, people reused and recycled it. Books might be unbound and their pages used to make dress patterns, line trunks, or wrap pies. What began as text might end up as toilet paper. As a result, Price says, "even people who are illiterate for reasons of rank or sex still have a very sophisticated, fine-grained taxonomy of paper." Mayhew reports, for instance, that food vendors preferred certain newspapers because of the absorbent or repellent characteristics of the newsprint.

I haven't read Price's book, but apparently there are some good references to 19th century use of Bibles and tracts that might be worth a read.

Howard's larger essay is to point out that, while the history of the book has become well established, the history of reading is less so, though rising. The bibliographic details herein are worth the read. And I wonder who might be doing this with regard sacred texts? Here's a topic for a dissertation, or two.

And check out the final paragraphs, well worth some conversation within SCRIPT:

"There's such an increasing awareness today of nontextual uses of books," she says. "Now that the textual meaning of books is migrating online, all that's left is an empty shell."
Then as now, devaluing the object sometimes creates more emphasis on content. "Going back to the 19th century makes you realize that a phenomenon we tend to blame on digitization actually happened a century earlier," Price says. "Once you can throw it away, the value of books comes to reside in the words they contain rather than their potential for reuse."

I think this might be part of the evangelical use of Biblical words into the 21st century, and the emphasis on the semantic meanings.