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Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times Hardcover – October 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“This is a deep and delightful performance, elucidating the multiple, shifting, overlapping ways that embodied persons interact with books. Like Walter Benjamin, Andrew Piper is able to filter vast learning through a distinctive writerly sensibility: whether he meditates on the computability of texts, the uses of handwriting, the faces of Facebook, or the varieties of annotation, he is a companionable and erudite guide. Book Was There is a book to return to: its provocations and illuminations multiply with each visit.”
(Alan Jacobs, author of The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction)

“At last, not an elegy for the book, whose reported death as material object has been greatly exaggerated, but the retooling of the computer screen itself as a rearview mirror on the perennial nature—and mystery—of reading. As down to earth as it is up to the minute, this is the book on bookishness we’ve needed, dispatched with unpedantic ease and brio, fast, aphoristic, and repeatedly eye-opening. Andrew Piper has plumbed the history of reading and produced a true page-turner on the legacy and fate of the page. Learned and witty throughout, Book Was There instructs in the delights of reading, on screen as well as off, by reproducing them anew in every phase of its meditation.”
(Garrett Stewart, author of Bookwork)

“An exquisite book, richly informed and wonderfully alert to both the riches of the past experience of reading and its potential for the future. Andrew Piper shows that what we think of as reading has always formed part of a wider range of activities and experiences, individual and collective—and never more so than now, as the page gives way to the screen. Book Was There has an enormous amount to offer anyone interested in the ways we use texts now and the many ways we have done so in the past.”
(Anthony Grafton, author of Worlds Made by Words)

“This series of enlightening meditations on the experience and history of reading reveals what we are poised to gain and to lose with the advent of e-readers and related digital media. . . . Often striking an audacious lyrical tone, he displays a remarkable sensitivity to the ways in which humans have historically talked about and understood reading. As such, Piper does a fine job of uncovering the metaphors on which the rationality and logic of reading rest. . . . A fascinating glance at the page as it was, as it is, and as it might yet be.”
(Publishers Weekly)

 “Compelling. . . . Piper shows the apparent internet revolution as being a continuum of book culture.”
(Financial Times)

 “I like Piper’s freewheeling approach, his search for the feel of things—his consideration of the touch screen, for example, as, in his words, part of ‘the culture of the “hand-held,” the way computing has steadily been migrating from large rooms to our desks to our hands.’ . . . The argument [about handwriting] is characteristic of Piper in its reasoned quality, its erudition, even in its reference to the experience of his children. It is also characteristic in its defence of older media without dismissing newer media and its manifold wonders.”
(Philip Marchand National Post)

“[One of] the two most interesting angles I saw this year on the history of the book and the fate of reading.”
(John Wilson Books and Culture "Favorite Books of 2012")

 “[Piper] has a remarkable feel for the textures of reading as an experience, and the ways it has, and hasn't, changed over the centuries.”
(Literary Review of Canada)

 “Evocative. . . . [Piper] has a remarkable feel for the textures of reading as an experience, and the ways it has, and hasn’t, changed over the centuries. . . . Book Was There is a reminder that we should savor this world of textual diversity and celebrate its possibilities rather than simply fret about the end of the a world.”
(History News Network)

 “Book Was There occupies a niche somewhere between a couple of fields of study that were already interdisciplinary. One is the history of the book, from scroll to e-reader. The other is a phenomenological psychology of reading—an effort, that is, to describe the concrete experience of engaging with the written word, which involves more than the sense of sight, or even the neural processes that somehow convert squiggles into meaning.” 
(Inside Higher Ed)

“Piper triumphs creatively as well as theoretically. Even his most esoteric observations mix a sense of corporeal universality with a creative individualism that is wholly relatable. He’s smart but grounded. . . . The pleasure of this prescient and idiosyncratic work . . . comes, appropriately, from reading.” 

"Piper is lyrical where [other] studies are data-driven, and organizes his material by theme rather than chronology. . . . Piper draws arresting analogies between the old and the new. . . . Book Was There extends far beyond literature proper, bringing together research by historians, bibliographers and media theorists into a surprisingly seamless synthesis, with morsels of original research thrown in for good measure.”
(Times Literary Supplement)

“Piper’s sense of play and his fluid style make it enjoyable reading.”

“Excellent, profound, unique, sometimes challenging. . . . I am quite content to have been in the company of the man who wrote Book Was There.”
(Key Reporter)

“With equal claim to being media theory, history of the book and a poignant piece of essay writing, Book Was There weaves between critical reflection and historical anecdote. . . . Piper cuts a wide swath through the thorny fields of debate about the digital future by bringing out the haptic qualities of books as tools with distinct functions, unthreatened by the co-presence of other media.”
(Review of English Studies)

About the Author

Andrew Piper teaches German and European literature at McGill University and is the author of Dreaming in Books, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (October 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226669785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226669786
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I grew up liking books but loving computers. While I have fond memories of reading books, I have even fonder ones of going to computer camp, programming my TRS-80 and playing Pong. I belong to that first generation of children who grew up using home computers. I think it was this duality that led to my interest in the history of books, to think about the way technologies change how we read and think.

My first book, Dreaming in Books, was a study of the origins of our obsessions with books that date back to the turn of the nineteenth century. I was interested in studying where this passion for books came from, and in particular how literature played a role in shaping our relationship to books. For this work I was awarded the MLA Prize for a First Book.

My new book, Book Was There, is an essayistic exploration of the future of reading through an understanding of our bibliographic past. As I write in the introduction, books were there first. Only in patiently working through this historical entanglement of books and screens will we be able to understand how new technologies will, or will not, change how we read.

I am also the author of two translations of Goethe as well as a short biography of his life. I have had many bibliographic crushes in my life, but Goethe is my true love. I will never tire of reading him.

In addition to being a writer, I am also a teacher at McGill University. I teach courses on the history of German and European literature, the practice of translation, and the history of electronic reading. Much of my new work is concerned with experiments in the computational analysis of large literary data sets. How can we extract meaning from broad swaths of our literary past? This is one of the questions percolating around the front of my brain right now.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By P. Stern on February 14, 2015
Format: Paperback
Deeply literate, charmingly personal, this book entices as an aid and vehicle for speculating on the past, present, and future of the book. What I liked best was the confidence and optimism that Piper brings to his subject. This is no lamentation on the demise of the book. Rather, it is a sweeping Alain de Botton-style rumination on that which gives books life -- propelled by an astonishing range of learning. The most ambitious section is Chapter 5, in which he advances the fascinating notion that "Reading is a sign of what cannot be shared between two people." While I didn't always agree with Piper, the book is full of playful, unpretentious insights for which we should be grateful. Highly recommended!
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Hastings on October 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
this is a beautiful book. it's balanced and thoughtful and never strident like so much of the writing about books and ebooks these days. it gave me a lot to think about. if you're a parent (like me), you'll find this book really helpful to think about making choices for your kids. I completely recommend it.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dag Stomberg on December 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Thoroughly argued about the endurance of pages of paper as regards to the ever-evolving

digital device's screen.

What are terms of debate for the formal structure of reading? Andrew Piper plays the

'scherzo' magnificently!

Dag Stomberg
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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Vegas Dave on February 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While some of the ideas and facts, trivia, etc. were interesting, this book never managed to engage me or present any compelling reason why the author decided to write this. Tedious.
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