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What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  488 ratings  ·  122 reviews
Do you worry that you've lost patience for anything longer than a tweet? If so, you're not alone. Digital-age pundits warn that as our appetite for books dwindles, so too do the virtues in which printed, bound objects once trained us: the willpower to focus on a sustained argument, the curiosity to look beyond the day's news, the willingness to be alone.

The shelves of the
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published August 20th 2019 by Basic Books
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Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
" . . . while many people I knew wanted to have read books, I never wanted to get over the delicious moment of being in the middle of reading them." -- Leah Price, on page 38

I was hoping this non-fiction work would be a delicious slice of education through entertainment, but it falls short of being truly interesting. Author Price (a distinguished English professor at Rutgers) can quasi-bloviate like the academic she is, and at times my attention span would wane. She does not focus on specific
Bam cooks the books ;-)
Professor Leah Price writes about the history and future of reading in her new book. I think we can all be reassured that, in one form or another, books and reading will continue to exist. Her chapters read to me like expanded classroom lectures or perhaps TED talks and she is obviously very erudite about the subject matter contained here. Some interesting history, information and shareable quotes.

I was surprised though by several topics that are not addressed in this book. For instance, reader
Peter Tillman
Sep 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, at-bg-pa
This was, well, a pretty good book about books. It was somewhat scattered, and sometimes academic, but I kept reading. The early stuff, where she went to look for the physical evidence that books had been read (or not), was the most striking. I didn't keep notes, and I don't see any reviews here that match my impressions. Such as they are. It is short, and well-written. And your library very likely has it. So, give it a try? 3+ stars from me. Not much a review, is it? Sorry.

Start with the New
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am a book-ophile (or whatever that is) so I was interested in how the book and the reading of the book has changed over time. It's fascinating that each and every era has worried about "the kids these days" and the moral rot of whatever new technology was coming around the corner--even the printed book! We all need to chill out. And I am glad that the e-reader did not take over the printed book.
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is perfect for readers that love to read and learn about books. Fascinating, as an avid kindle user I was shocked at what I learned! I have always been a reader since I was 5, I laughed when they worried people wouldn’t read more than 144 characters. I am the opposite, never enjoyed short stories or essays because I crave long meaty books I can get lost in! Very enlightening facts and figures for book lovers and their reading habits, highly recommend.
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
There were some interesting thoughts here, probably needs a more thoughtful reading rather than paying through the audiobook in a day.
It's a book about the physical book and the history/connections we have with it. But some of what Price says are clearly from being outside the digital book world and rather in the hallowed halls of academia (her belittling of Bookstagram as girls with pretty books and little more than scarves was bizarre, for example).

Maybe because I listened on audio and didn't get invested, but this wasn't particularly revolutionary or insightful. Then again, my knowledge surpasses the average reader's when
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The entire first chapter of this book had me nodding along, shouting yes! Absolutely! As the author led me through statistics and a heap of information to support her argument that reading is not dying, that is is changing and that reading has always been changing. This book looks at the history of books starting from the earliest times and travelling through time to now the age of digital books and eReaders. It's an interesting journey, full of times when people agonised about the future of ...more
Antonia Malvino
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book captivated me with its introduction and is far more interesting than I could have imagined. I’m savoring this one and all the thoughts it triggers.
Jackie ϟ Bookseller
3.5/5 stars: 1/2

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Books" is a Book History 101 course in about 200 pages. Having taken a few book history courses and having worked in libraries for several years, a lot of the information presented was what I already knew about books: their origins, the cultures they shaped and were shaped by, and their uses in our modern time.

Honestly, the “We” in the title feels, upon reading the text, like “Academics,” the result being “What Academics Talk About When
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
A fascinating look at the history of the book, not of literature, but of the physical book, along with its impact on self and society, it’s ever adapting formats and brilliant comparisons between technological eras of the book.
Alan Teder
Bibliostan World
Review of the Basic Books hardcover (2019) edition

I loved this quirky series of essays on the history of books and reading which covered everything from the different media from stone tablets to e-readers and the different usages or non-usages of books throughout history. Admittedly, books about books are not everyone's cup of tea but this is the sort of stuff that I really enjoy.

A few quirky trivia bits remain burned in my memory:

- the 1st mural of Edward Laning's "The Story of
No review. I read about 1/3rd of this and it was a waste of time. I can't imagine giving it anything beyond a one or at most a 2 star. The Introduction alone almost made me abandon and I should have stuck with instinct. It's all over the place, tone seems like a lecture. But the worst aspect is that opinions are often interpreted as facts. It's similar to what our USA media does with so called news or journalism as opposed as for the who, what, where, when, how facts of reality.

Her print copy
Oct 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
"Every minute that you give to How Proust Can Change Your Life is a minute that you're not spending with Remembrance of Things Past."
This. Just substitute the titles with What We Talk About When We Talk About Books and ANY BOOK AT ALL.

This book = Leah Price spouting her opinions as facts. For example, on p. 158 when discussing biblioactivists' goal of exchanging books outside of the money economy (through barter or gifts), Price turns this into "one more instance of digital dwellers
Bill FromPA
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
This was pretty bad. Maybe if the author had organized her material in some way, any way, and stuck to a subject for more than a paragraph or two, she might have made her points more effectively and convincingly. Among these are:
• The differing impressions made by the physical presence of a book and the text it embodies.
• The book as the leading edge of capitalist innovation in areas such as mass production, bar code identification, and on-line sales.
• The nature of ebooks not fundamentally
Neil R. Coulter
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an odd book to write about, because the subject matter—the history of books themselves, and of reading habits in different eras—is fascinating, but the writing style is lackluster. Leah Price knows a lot of interesting facts about her topic, of course, but her writing somehow never seems to get moving. Most of the book feels like an introduction. Large sections are simply tapestries of direct quotations and references to other works, such that I can almost see the blue hyperlink text ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a book about actual books, not literature. Leah Price an English professor and a book historian shows us the evolution of physical books and how they were read and the future of reading. There are some surprising facts about the books that I didn't know and some of which are full of ironies. A few are: Buying personal copies of books is a recent phenomenon propagated for commercial reasons. Printed books were among the first mass-produced mass-marketed objects in the nineteenth century. ...more
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I read this book I had this irritating suspicion that it was written by a smart person who was being willfully stupid. Why? Just to be contradictory and 'interesting'. The author seemed to be ignoring the obvious in order to be novel. The text felt jumbled and confused due to the author's attempt to appear smarter than everyone else.

Then, just like that, at the bottom of page 159, as I neared the end, the author surprised me with a line of total clarity which, whether she knew it or not,
TJ Wilson
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Extremely smart and thought out in a way that is very delve-worthy. Lots to get lost in and spiderwebs of thought to follow you out of the book.

Perhaps too edited down? I feel like my one criticism is that I want more explanation, more tying things together.

Regardless, a good one to push against our concepts of books.

However, I do want to push back on some of the arguments that Price has about the current state of books. Often times, she points to the fact that book lovers in the past made
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was such a refreshing take on the current state of books and reading! Price is an expert in the history of the book and approaches the current state of reading and the book from that perspective. She scolds the likes of Sven Birkerts by reminding us that books were one of the first massed produced commodities, that readers have always skimmed, that books have always been taken apart and put back together, that there has never been a time when the majority of the population were readers, ...more
mindful.librarian ☀️
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. Some interesting history of books, a whole lot of unnecessarily "academic speak" for a book that could have made an amazing gift for almost any book lover. Some gems in here to help us all feel a little better about the state of reading and books when the doomsday folks try to tell us reading is dead, but also some sections that were utterly skimmable.

Recommended for librarians, bookstore owners and the most hardcore bibliophiles.
Mayar El Mahdy
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
I think I hate this. I came in expecting a nice "book about books" but was faced with loads of facts that made me uncomfortable. The equivalent of squirming in my seat but while I'm doing chores.

This talks about whether printing press is fading, do audiobooks count as reading?, and why do we even read. Why this disturbed me I have no clue, it came to close to the whole 'reading is what people with nothing to do do' thing and it was weird for an alleged book lover to transmit this feeling to a
I'm not sure what I was expecting from this title, but it wasn't quite what I got. I did, however, learn a lot about the history of borrowing and lending books, and was fascinated to learn that people would just throw out their novels (!) in the Victorian age. It was also somewhat comforting to learn that people have been predicting and mourning the "death of the book" for just about as long as books have existed -- and all of them have been wrong.

There is an interleaf in this book that requires
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
I'm not sure what I was supposed to take away from this. I don't think I'm taking much away at all, besides things I already sort of knew? Maybe because I'm a librarian (and a fiction librarian to boot), or maybe because I'm a person who now reads ebooks far more than actual books...but anyway, none of the revelations in this felt like revelations.

I actually do not think I can recommend this.
Melanie Page
Sep 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf, sjcpl
What the fresh hell is up with her writing style. Instead of writing digital vs. analogue, she writes "not-app" to mean paperback books in one paragraph. There's an attempt at "creative language" here that lands on its face like a kid thrown after hitting a curb with his bicycle.
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book cast a whole new light on books. I had not thought about the study of books themselves, the physical things we call books. The history of the development of print materials was fascinating. I want to share this book with my book group! Mention is made of book groups that date from long ago, when belonging to a book group, and paying for membership, gave access to books. It did not necessarily mean sitting around and discussing a book, which is what most contemporary book groups do. I ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was gratifying to learn about the history and facts of reading that show so many fears about what qualifies as "proper reading etiquette" is a lot of nonsense. People in the past wrote in their books constantly (and people who did have offered great insight for historians), or had their books read aloud to them so they could multitask (audiobooks, anyone?). Some argued that reading a book on loan, rather than buying (i.e., libraries), was unseemly, while others were so eager to be rid of ...more
Chris Drew
Dec 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is a well written and organized account and observation of the history of human connection to books and reading, from Gutenberg to Amazon. I'd say it goes just deep enough to be both highly digestible and thought-provoking, and really made me interested in taking on some more book history.
Price does a good job of taking on so many of the cultural norms we associate with books and reading, and contextualizing them within the long arch of what books have meant across time and within the
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
2.5. I had really high hopes for this as I love to read and to learn. This was just difficult to plow through and the section that had to be read with the book flat was just painful to read. (Maybe because I decided to read this only when I rode the exercise bike.) I thought the section on prescribed reading was interesting but other sections I just had to force myself to read and that just defeats the purpose, in my mind.
Lauren Albert
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Price does a beautiful job of showing the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1863, Isaac Ray “used the latest medical methods” to find reading “the source of ‘cerebral disorder,’ ‘irritability,’ and ‘abnormal erythism which often terminates in overt disease.’ Concerns with Twitter, loss of attention span, death of the book, basically everything which has been totted up in the list of ills coming from ebooks has been seen before.
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Leah Price is an American literary critic who specializes in the British novel and in the history of the book. She is Professor of English Literature at Harvard University, where at the age of 31 she became the first female assistant professor ever to be promoted to tenure.
“Whatever life lessons we can glean from having read, perhaps being middle of a book is what really counts as living.” 1 likes
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