Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Social Life of Books by Abigail Williams

Note: I'm currently in the middle of moving back to Singapore and don't have access to wifi in Fukuoka. I'll be back in a few days, once I'm back home(:

I borrowed this book because... why wouldn't I? It's about books, which is one of my favourite things.

To be clear, this is not an easy read. It's about the ways people read in the 18th century and it's written in very dry, academic language. I almost stopped several times because of the language and the only reason I continued reading was because of the subject matter. To be fair, the fault is mine for assuming this would be an easy read.

The book covers 8 topics:

1. Reading aloud (the primary way people read then) and what that meant

2. How the act of reading was part of social life

3. How books were read

4. How people managed to get their hands on books

5. The pervasiveness of poetry

6. The difference between reading aloud and acting and what that meant

7. How people viewed fiction

8. How people viewed religious and scientific works.

I mentioned that the language was very academic and dry, but the subject matter is really interesting and I picked up a lot of interesting facts. For example, people used to read parts of books rather than from cover to cover, which explains the structure of older books.

And in the section on the novel, it is written that 'the novel might be seen as the antithesis of sociable reading' and so communal reading was encouraged to negate the 'isolating' effects of the novel. This second point was quite surprising to me because the novel is seen as helping to develop empathy nowadays, not encouraging people to become isolationists.

Oh, and if you're a fan of Jane Austen's Mansfield Hall, you'll enjoy the chapter on acting vs reading aloud because it helps to explain why it was so scandalous for the young people in the book to put on a play.

Overall, if you're interested in reading about reading and/or the history of reading, you should pick up this book. The style is a bit intimidating (I probably need a few more reads to properly get everything!) but the information is fascinating.

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