What is a Book? Notes from the Symposium on 4/17

This is a reblog of a post written in collaboration with my classmates and Prof. Marissa Nicosia at Scripps College in our class ENGL 197: What is a Book?

marginal notes

This post was written in collaboration with the students in my course, ENGL 197: What is a Book? 

IMG_3035This course began with a desire to think about the place of the book in humanist inquiry. When we study literature we read books, but we do not always pause to consider what they are or why they are the way they are. What is a book anyway? A dense wood-pulp rectangle? A performance? A scrolling screen? This semester we have asked these questions of an array of materials in special collections at the Denison and Honnold-Mudd libraries, and at the Scripps College Press. We considered the roles of authors, publishers, readers, annotators, illustrators, book artists, and booksellers. We pursued detailed research about three case studies: the multiple texts of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the media explosion that accompanied the publication of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and the perpetually revised editions of…

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The house of fi…

The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at the best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life. But they have this mark of their own that at each of them stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at least with a field-glass, which forms, again and again, for observation, a unique instrument, insuring to the person making use of it an impression distinct from every other. He and his neighbors are watching the same show, but one seeing more where the other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white, one seeing big where the other sees small, one seeing coarse where the other sees fine. And so on, and so on; …

Henry James from “The Preface to the New York Edition” of The Portrait of a Lady (1908).


January has always been my favorite month. Sure, it’s the New Year (and—yes—my birthday is this month too), but for me it has always been the month that best combines renewal and reflection. We’re slowly waking up from our winter slumber, refreshed (hopefully) to face the rest of the world once again.

Clearing some space for fresh, new ideas to occupy. I hope good writing will also follow. In the meantime, here are January-related things I like.

“January” by John Updike

January 24: Hug-A-Writer Day

January Hymn – The Decemberists