In an interesting and appropriate pairing of reviewer and book, the excellent new Web site, The Critical Flame chose Richard Nash to review Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control.
Richard Nash (R_Nash) is the former publisher of Soft Skull, who left the press to among other things start Cursor, a niche online social publishing community. In other words, he is someone who is familiar with both the “old” print-based world of publishing and the new, in which readers and writers interact in new ways. Book publishing is still continuing to navigate these worlds, and Striphas’s book provides context for the current state by exploring specific chapters in the history of the book in the United States during the 20th century.
Nash begins his review by evoking Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, writing “And, while Striphas does not himself avail of Benjamin, I think he might approve. For neither is a sentimentalist and the brilliance of [The Late Age of Print] lies in the sober fashion in which Striphas reveals the recent history of American book culture to be decidedly at odds with the fantasy.”
Nash’s review of the book allows him to address some of the current opportunities but realized and missed by today’s book publishers, including their failure to understand social media as something more than just another marketing tool to push their books. He concludes with a somewhat unfair, I think, comment about university press books but one that speaks well about The Late Age of Print:
It is rare to say of a university press hardcover that it is a “must-read,” but for those interested in the confluence of culture and economics as it relates to books, that is what The Late Age of Print is: a key text advancing our knowledge. To quote the author himself,
“The Late Age of Print indexes not a distinct historical moment but rather a point of conjuncture where at least two historical moments meet. Instead of the possibilities diminishing, it would be more accurate to say they’re being transformed—or maybe even multiplying.”
Striphas is not in fact reviewing his own book, though—he’s unpacking the title itself for the reader. He sees in it not a nostalgia for the Early or Middle Ages of print, but a set of practical opportunities that are born not out of a fantasy of a literary culture now feared to be slipping away, but out of the actual practical everyday social relations that books enable. In other words, that the future of reading, and of books, is where it ought to be: in front of us, should we choose to face it.