[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0226669785″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41LkwAWdYCL.jpg” width=”216″ Alt=”Andrew Piper” ]The Incarnation of the Book.
A Feature Review of
Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times.
Hardback: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
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Reviewed by Mark Eckel
My son is one of the few people I know who actually writes letters by hand. He includes on pages and envelopes freehand pictures, drawings, and flourishes which both decorate and drive attention. I can only imagine the post-person’s double take. Tyler’s personality and personableness are on display. If you are fortunate enough to receive one of Tyler’s creative missives, you might try hard to find a way to keep it. In like manner, Andrew Piper’s children allow him to connect page to person. Anecdotal connections to his offspring bring us face-to-face from a page-to-page perspective in Piper’s important work, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times.
Each chapter ends with Piper’s children, a connection not to be lost. Piper’s children and their inclusion in Book Was There show the future of reading. In the Piper household, both books and screens are given their rightful place. Yet the stress placed upon books is as simple as a bedtime story:
As I begin to read, the kids begin to lean into me. Our bodies assume positions of rest, the book our shared column of support. No matter what advertisers say, this could never be true of the acrobatic screen (22).
Physicality, personableness, and ‘thereness’ (ix) give reason for reading, and for reading books: “In taking hold of the book, we are taken hold of by books” (2). Tangible, tactile touch plays a role to prompt reflection. Piper writes as he tells us to read; with care, openness, gentleness, and vulnerability. “In holding books, we are held together” (5), so the reciprocity of reading is a sign of community, what Piper calls “the ambiguous sociability of reading” (22). “Books cross time and space; they transcend the individual’s grasp; books are how we speak with the distant and the dead” (12, 13). On the other hand, screens have little sense, a physical sense, that is. Words disappear. Swiping screens eliminates context. Skimming words reduces meaning. Rhythms of awareness are lost. Skype shows an image without the weight of the image bearer. Fatigue is one of the basic conditions of the digital (36). If reading is a physical exercise, the corollary need would be rest. Yet Piper explains:
If we believe in the value of rest, and the kind of conversational thinking that it makes possible, then we will want to preserve books and their spaces of readerly rest (23).
The physicality of books lends itself to physical human needs.