The book is a durable vehicle for words and images and often is a central artifact in cultures with the written word. Those produced in the era before the advent of printing are unique “manuscript” books that were made by hand. The book became the first mass medium, and conventions for its presentation shaped those of later media. It can be distinguished from other printed and electronic media by the substantial length of its texts and by the diversity of its content, which ranges from the worldly and practical to the poetic and sublime. Because books both comprise and safeguard the working memory of humanity, they are inherently conservative at the same time as they announce what is new. Thus the book is a complex artifact: it reveals the personal, social, and cultural values of a period, and it can be “read” in a variety of ways.
The many genres of content that have developed in modern book publishing demarcate organizational boundaries within the industry, affiliations of authors, commercial identities of bookstores, the arrangement of books within shops and libraries, and the particular interests of book clubs or readers’ groups. While most books are edited, designed, produced, promoted, and distributed by the processes discussed below, the field of book publishing is diverse and includes small presses, specialty publishers, government publishing, the private press, and artists’ books, inspiring many variant practices.
Materials And Form
Materials used in the construction of books must be light enough to be amassed in quantity and flexible enough to be rolled or folded. Papyrus, parchment, and paper all meet these requirements, with machine-made paper predominant in modern times. For economy, the sizes and shapes in which such materials originally are produced often act as determinants of the formats of books. Books must be comfortable in hand and most are regular in shape. The rectangles of the book page appear in both “portrait” (upright) and “landscape” (sideways) dispositions, or more rarely as the square. Page shapes often are built on the rationality of such whole number proportions as 2 : 3, 3 : 4, or 5 : 8, supplemented by more dynamic square-root proportions and special proportions such as the golden section. By design or of necessity, book formats sometimes break out of these norms: “elephant” folios and miniature books are two examples, and pictorially shaped books have an ancient lineage, as well.
Comprehension of the content of most books requires a specific sequence of pages to accumulate meaning. Imposition (the placement of pages) and binding determine and enforce that order. Binding techniques for books include simple “stabbing” and sidesewing, machine sewing, adhesives, and “mechanical” methods reliant on devices. Hard covers offer protection and durability, while soft covers permit economy and portability.
Editing And Production
Editing books involves the selection and shaping of texts for publication. Formerly patrons and currently mostly corporate bodies with an interest in ideas or profit sponsor this process, providing its material and means. Editors channel and reshape texts, guided by dictionaries and manuals that insure consistency and predictability in the use of language and the presentation of thought.
The book was reorganized in its first 100 years as a mass medium. A period of experiment begun in the mid-fifteenth century introduced such things as the title page and printer’s device. Most texts were fragmented to create small, easily comprehensible units, and labels were added to identify parts. Prefaces and forewords were derived from manuscripts, but other elements of the book’s apparatus including page numbers and indexes were new to the book as a mass medium and continue to govern its presentation. The apparatus of the book is expansible or collapsible, but the nature and order of its components remains consistent and predictable.
Producing the book has almost always required the use of teams of people and specialized equipment, in the modern era in an industrial setting to accomplish typesetting, proofreading, printing, and binding. The introduction of computers into this process from the 1960s changed the process of typesetting and revised writing and editing practices, eliminating steps in production and altering relations among personnel.
Art And Books
The earliest writing systems were fundamentally pictorial and the book continues to embrace pictoriality as a principal mode of communication or as a complement to texts.
In the era of the manuscript book, images often were objects of contemplation and were inserted by hand using direct, autographic techniques such as drawing and painting. A long tradition of the decoration of the page also developed in the manuscript era. Printmaking techniques that produced multiples replaced earlier methods. Across all cultures, the earliest of these techniques was the woodcut, often followed by metal engravings and then by processes like intaglio or lithography which adapted alternative methods of printing. The pictorial precision of photography encouraged its inclusion in books as well as other printed media from the late nineteenth century. Images began to be digitized late in the twentieth century, speeding their transfer by electronic means and favoring their inclusion in books.
While long a tradition in the east, the modern artist’s book came to the fore in the west in the late nineteenth century. Late twentieth-century technological change brought artists face to face with issues related to the book: some altered texts to subvert or convert meanings; others produced “installations” that reflected on accretion of knowledge or the worthiness of the many promises made by the form and content of the book.
Transport of books became a logistical problem of some significance with the advent of the book as a mass medium, and the weight and bulkiness of books in numbers continues to be at issue in an era that permits the electronic transfer of texts and images. Bookstores originated in scribal and printers’ workshops and spread in cities as specialized boutiques. An increase in literacy and in the number of bookstores promoted specialization and the establishment of genre-oriented bookshops.
The computerization of book ordering and shipping begun in the late twentieth century reduced diversity among bookstores, encouraging centralization and the development of uniform chains. Online sale and the electronic ordering of books further unified bookselling by providing access to the combined resources of used and antiquarian bookstores and the fresh output of book publishers, vastly increasing the number of titles accessible by this means.
The book review developed as a evaluative service for modern readers confronted with an array of texts. Reviews typically reprise the substance of a text, estimate its cultural value, and promote acquaintance with authors, texts, or publishers. Initially sponsored by magazines and newspapers, the reviewing process recently has been democratized by the advent of personalized, online reviewing.
Libraries And Conservation
In the era of the manuscript book, libraries were formed by individuals or developed for the corporate study and duplication of books in religious or academic settings. The durability of both manuscripts and printed books also lent them to amalgamation and protection by courts, governments, and religious institutions. Enlightenment thought fostered the notion of the individual reader as educable through the silent instruction provided by books and thus suggested the development of lending and then free public libraries. Modern economies in book production encouraged the formation of personal libraries for “everyman.” Digitization of books enables the creation of “virtual” libraries, but challenges copyright and other forms of legal protection.
The need for the conservation of ancient manuscripts and printed books led to the development in the twentieth century of a science of book conservation dedicated to understanding historical materials and book production methods and to discovering ideal conditions for preservation. But it also emerged to address the consequences of a decline in the quality of materials and binding methods that began in the nineteenth century. Residual acidity in papers produced from the mid-nineteenth century, for instance, creates slow, internal “fires” that can destroy books.
Rapid reading of lengthy texts depends in part on the nature of the book as a “still” medium. The mechanics of silent reading involve revoicing the text in the mind and “hearing” the voice of an author or character, an operation that has been of some interest to modern literary theorists. The need for instantaneous recognition of character or word shapes accounts in part for the conservatism common in the development of writing styles and text fonts. The “transparency” of fonts permits a reader to partake of a text without undue consciousness of its vehicle.
The visual organization of the book page operates in much the same way and has many of the same purposes. The mise en page or layout of book pages is related to the body, with “head” and “foot” margins to orient the reader. In most books, pages also are subdivided in regular ways that are satisfying to the eye. The “restfulness” of a typical book page enables the concentration necessary for reading and leaves the reader in charge, fully acquainted with a plan for the “consumption” of the text.
Peoples Of The Book
Some of the power of the book is revealed in the social or cultural organization that forms around them. Religions, for example, often are built on acquaintance with texts contained in books. The modern professions, whether law, medicine, or scholarship, also revolve around acquaintance with texts. But social groupings also evolve in response to such things as common interest in the books of a particular author or in those central to a popular cultural phenomenon. This produces differing ideological commitments, senses of identity, and styles of living based on sharing the ideas contained within books.
Study of the book began with the compilation of book lists. Bibliography developed to bring precision to this task and now takes into consideration factors relevant to both the composition of texts and the construction of the physical book. Early histories of printing and publishing usually focused on the medium of the book and spawned biographical studies of such figures as printers, publishers, and illustrators. New understanding of the power of the book has led in the modern period to more intensive study of its workings in an interdisciplinary context. Literary theorists delve into such things as the “fiction” of the author’s voice or paratextuality as a way of framing the experience of the reader. In the late twentieth century, intellectual historians opened paths for understanding such things as hidden aspects of the book trade, the impact of printing on culture, and aspects of the “coming of the book” linked to technical, visual, economic, labor, and geographic concerns.
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