The Cultures of Books & Reading

Many people have claimed that ours is an age in which electronic media predominate.  Amid the flow of 24-hour radio and television, the visual and sonic entropy of digitally-enhanced cinema, the kaleidoscopic intensity of video gaming, and the relentless tide of information emanating from sources like Twitter and Facebook, it gets harder to imagine a seemingly old-fashioned medium like books having much relevance anymore.

Yet, in other respects, books and book culture also seem to be thriving.  Bookstores have been supersized, and online bookstores promise even greater accessibility.  Popular book clubs and bestselling book franchises have inspired legions of people to consume hundreds of millions of books.  Large multi-national corporations publish more and more books every year, and new digital reading devices are emerging rapidly.

Given these and other developments, now seems like an appropriate time in which to think, talk, and write about the role of books in culture.  We’ll explore how the physical form of books, and the means by which books are both produced and distributed, have transformed over time.  We’ll consider how relations of race, class, and gender affect who reads what, with whom, and under what conditions.  We’ll also investigate questions of authorship, ownership, and originality as they arise within the context of books’ mass reproducibility.  We’ll wrap up by thinking about the implications of the growing shift from paper to electronic books.

Broadly, you’ll learn specific skills by which to research, and critical frameworks by which to assess, the politics of book culture past, present, and future.