- The Enduring Book
A major scholarly achievement by anyone's standards, these five impressive volumes serve a dual purpose. They appeared in a decade when print culture and its institutions were undergoing one fundamental change after the other. As a result, this publication is both a chronicle of past achievements and a manifesto intended to reassure us—perhaps a little too emphatically—that the book is "enduring," that newspapers, as some chapters have it, are "Wounded but Not Slain," and that readers are still "Valuing Reading, Writing, and Books in a Post-Typographic World." Like the books they persist in reading, readers too are "enduring." [End Page 191]
Looking at the titles on the cover and in the table of contents, and at the captions that accompany the illustrations in The Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America, however, the reader wonders at times if the result is not more elegiac than defiant; or if, at the very least, optimism and pessimism are not intertwined in the anxious question "Is the Book Disappearing?" Students read "from printed texts" in a circa 1950 photo of Tufts University's Eaton Library that is included in John B. Thompson's chapter on "U. S. Academic Publishing in the Digital Age," while other students have proudly advanced to reading from "both printed and digitized academic publications in the state-of-the-art Gleason Library" at Rochester University in 2008. But the book in which this information appears is, as a print medium, unable to update us as to whether these computer stations are still "state-of-the-art" four years later. Indeed, some of the computers shown in various photos to illustrate, for example, the changing function of public libraries look distinctly antiquated, and it is difficult to dispel the growing suspicion that, in future, outdated computer models will have to be collected along with manuscripts and print—as already happens in the collections of some authors' papers.
The inevitable mixture of purpose occasionally produces comical effects, and it is not always easy to determine whether these are intended or not. James L. Baughman's chapter on the "Orderly Retreat of the American Newspaper," for example, features a photo of the Washington Star being home-delivered on a suburban street by the news carrier tossing it towards the subscriber's door, and the caption resembles an anthropologist's commentary on an extinct custom, as incomprehensible and remote as typewriters or smoking. As if to prove the point, Carol Polsgrave's chapter on "Magazines and the Making of Authors" includes a photo of Gay Talese puffing on a cigarette while typing away in the newsroom. Although it does not specify whether he has abandoned the typewriter, the caption finds it necessary to point out that he "gave up smoking long ago." Like the warning in the Washington Post recently that a new movie of Alice in Wonderland contained "a smoking caterpillar," this information could be intended tongue-in-cheek or not.
Such enjoyable ironies indicate that these books lend themselves to...