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

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  826 ratings  ·  189 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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Jim Fonseca
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, reading
This caught my eye on the new book non-fiction shelf in the library. It’s an academic book (30 pages of notes and index) written by an English professor but in a non-academic style. Short sentences, punchy writing, the use of “I,” and an avoidance of academic jargon. That being said, it comes across as paragraphs of anecdotes and book trivia on every imaginable way of looking at reading. The subtitle – The History and Future of Reading – is more to the point than the main title.


Threaded through
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 ti
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 didn't see any reviews here that quite matched my impressions. 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.

The best review I saw was at t
May 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
Having such high hopes for this one, because the subject matter should be interesting, I regretted having to finally put it down.
I just couldn't take Price's writing anymore. She strings random publishing and historical trivia together as she intersperses stories of her own "history of the book" courses she teaches
at Harvard.....I thought there was something wrong with my attention span, but then I kept coming across sentences like, "At a time when increasing numbers of books have been digitize
Reading_ Tam_ Ishly
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Regarding this book
I appreciate:
*The short content
*The well researched topics regarding the trends and reading formats and the hype/fears that have been circulating around these past few decades regarding reading and books
*The reference of the most used social media platforms (bookstagram/Youtube/Kindle) instead of the same old same *Well placed arguments and opinions that are not biased
*The prescribed reading chapter is awesome. This is something new as well as old as recommended reads.
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. ...more
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 id
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.
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 affe
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.
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.
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
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 rea ...more
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
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
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 s
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. ...more
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.
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
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 tha ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book is less concerned with what's inside books and more about what we do with the actual physical book. Leah Price is a book historian as well as a literary critic, and the reason I bought this book was for her insights on how we read and how you delve into how people in the past read. With some old books it's easy: you can tell by whether the pages are cut or not. In cookbooks, you might be able to tell from where the pages are stuck together or splattered with ingredients. There's also f ...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, conf
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 erron
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

I'm a sucker for books about books, but they frequently disappoint. The titles that are filled with recommendations of books the author thinks I should read are a particular annoyance. This book wasn't about recommending books (although she still managed to mention Nancy Pearl), or even recommending reading as an act. It bounced from history of the book, to examining how the form a book takes (illuminated manuscript vs. hardback vs. paperback vs. ebook) affects the ways we use it, to the way soc
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Books about books and reading are always something I enjoy and so I picked up this up from the library. It's a slim book that talks about the author's experiences with books, reading, the changes in her habits, physical books, etc. Sounds great!

Agree with the negative reviews. There didn't seem to be any cohesion and it did feel like a bunch of TED talks or long reads mashed together as a book. It wasn't particularly interesting and seemed more suited for the author's personal blog or social med
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.
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.
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.
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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.

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