Sunday Book-Thought 144

Different eras, these changes suggest, don’t just produce different kinds of books. Each also generates new ways of treating books – more specifically, new assumptions about what aspects of these physical objects deserve readers’ attention. When my students notice how different an eighteenth-century sermon collection looks from a twentieth-century airport paperback, the difference between a laminated chemistry textbook and the electronic version on their laptop begins to look less unprecedented. In the other direction, though, they begin to see that electronic technologies are in fact creating something radically new. Digital tools may not be upending our reading practices any more drastically than changing forms of print did. What they are revolutionizing is our ideas about reading. In the process, they’re remaking the printed past.
Leah Price, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (New York: Basic Books, 2019), p. 33.


Sunday Book-Thought 134

One such structure is the machinery of publishing and reviewing by means of which an author is brought to the attention of his audience. The social and economic processes that govern the dissemination of a literary work are no more accidental to its reputation, and indeed to its very nature (as that will be perceived by an audience), than are the cultural conceptions (of the nature of poetry, of morality, of the human soul) within which the work is read. The conditions of dissemination interpret the work for its readers in exactly the same way as definitions of poetry, in that they flow from the support widely held – if unspoken – assumptions about the methods of distribution proper to a serious (or nonserious) work. The fact that an author makes his or her appearance in the context of a particular publishing practice rather than some other is a fact about the kind of claim he or she is making on an audience’s attention and is crucial to the success of the claim.
Jane Tompkins, ‘Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation’, Reception Study: From Literary Theory to Cultural Studies, ed. by James L. Machor and Philip Goldstein (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 133-154 (p. 143).