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  • The Future of the Book: Images of Reading in the American Utopian Novel by Kevin J. Hayes
  • Matthew Leggatt
Kevin J. Hayes. The Future of the Book: Images of Reading in the American Utopian Novel.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022. E-book, 192 pp. ISBN 9780192670960.

Kevin J. Hayes is a writer of high regard, having published many books over his distinguished career, including biographical studies such as Herman Melville, Mark Twain, George Washington: A Life in Books, and several on Edgar Allen Poe. Works like the 2020 monograph Shakespeare and the Making of America showcase his intersecting interests in biography, literature, and American political history. It is these interests that are very much on display in his 2022 monograph The Future of the Book: Images of Reading in the American Utopian Novel, and we should be thankful that Hayes has turned his attention to the subject of utopian fiction as he certainly has much to add to the discussion. The book is clearly a labor of love and Hayes writes with a great degree of detail and authority suggesting he has always held a deep interest in the utopian novel. In fact, from the preface, it is clear the research supporting this book has spanned many years.

The preface sets it all up very neatly. Immediately, the reader is invited into the research story of the book. Hayes has an evocative and methodical style that carries that research throughout. The author is also careful in this preface to assert his expertise in the field. Having read “virtually every utopian novel in American literature published before 1910” on microfilm gives Hayes the opportunity to explore many of the obscure and lesser-known works of the period (ix), which he notes in his introduction is primarily between 1880 and 1915. Since many of these novels are yet to be digitized, his insight is notably rare.

Aside from an introduction and conclusion, the book is divided into five chapters. The first is titled “The Residential Library” and is centrally about [End Page 601] books in home-spaces, from personal libraries to books on shelves in someone’s living room. Chapter 2, “The Public Library,” explores depictions of public libraries and ways that collected knowledge might be organized and made accessible in utopian visions. “The Idea of Authorship,” chapter 3, is about the professional/amateur status of authors in utopian societies. In this section, Hayes also explores ideas about literary quality and attempts to answer concerns that a utopian age would necessarily be incapable of producing great literature. Chapter 4, titled “The Newspaper,” details the struggles utopian authors have had with the newspaper format. Finally, “The Printed Page and the Written Word” examines ways in which utopian authors sought to refine the printed and written word and their innovative suggestions in this area. Each of these chapters opens by considering Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward in relation to the subject at hand and Bellamy’s 1888 novel is referred to extensively throughout The Future of the Book, offering a frame for Hayes’s exploration of utopian literature’s inner dialogue with the printed word.

In his introduction, Hayes highlights that much of the scholarly work in this area has focused on dystopias. Indeed, when I think about the representation of literature in speculative fiction I tend, first, to think of the great dystopias like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which history is erased and rewritten by The Party, or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in which books are considered dangerous and thus are rigorously hunted and burned by the ironically named Firemen of the future. Alternatively, postapocalyptic movies spring to mind. Taking shelter in the New York Public Library, Sam Hall (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) frantically burns books for warmth despite the protests of several other characters in Roland Emmerich’s 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow. Likewise, in “Marooned” (1989), an episode of the British SF sitcom Red Dwarf (1988–), of which I was particularly fond during my formative years, a copy of the collected works of Shakespeare is burned to keep the last remaining human, David Lister (played by Craig Charles), alive. In the opposite direction, some postapocalyptic...