Book Was There:
Reading in Electronic Times
University of Chicago Press, 2012

This book isn't a case for or against books. It isn't about old media or new media (or even new new media). It is an attempt to bring clarity to the seemingly endless debates today surrounding the future of our reading materials. It argues that we cannot think about the future of reading without contending with our bookish past. Only in patiently working through the entanglement of books and screens -- understanding their differences as well as their commonalities -- will we be able to understand how new technologies will, or will not, change old habits.

From medieval manuscript books to today's playable media and interactive urban fictions, from the scholar's study to the scene of bedtime reading, Book Was There takes readers on a journey of the rich and diverse ways that things have shaped how we read and thus how we think. It is about the intimate ways that we interact with our reading materials, how we hold them, look at them, navigate them, play with them, even where we read them. Reading isn't just a matter of our brains; it is an integral part of our lived experience. If debates about the future of the book often elicit visceral responses from readers, it is because of the way it belongs at such an intimate level to who we are.

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"This series of enlightening meditations on the experience and history of reading reveals what we are poised to gain and to lose with the advent of e-readers and related digital media. . . . Often striking an audacious lyrical tone, he displays a remarkable sensitivity to the ways in which humans have historically talked about and understood reading. As such, Piper does a fine job of uncovering the metaphors on which the rationality and logic of reading rest. . . . A fascinating glance at the page as it was, as it is, and as it might yet be."
—Publisher's Weekly

"This is a deep and delightful performance, elucidating the multiple, shifting, overlapping ways that embodied persons interact with books. Like Walter Benjamin, Andrew Piper is able to filter vast learning through a distinctive writerly sensibility: whether he meditates on the computability of texts, the uses of handwriting, the faces of Facebook, or the varieties of annotation, he is a companionable and erudite guide. Book Was There is a book to return to: its provocations and illuminations multiply with each visit."
—Alan Jacobs, author of The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

"At last, not an elegy for the book, whose reported death as material object has been greatly exaggerated, but the retooling of the computer screen itself as a rearview mirror on the perennial nature -- and mystery -- of reading. As down to earth as it is up to the minute, this is the book on bookishness we've needed, dispatched with unpedantic ease and brio, fast, aphoristic, and repeatedly eye-opening. Andrew Piper has plumbed the history of reading and produced a true page-turner on the legacy and fate of the page. Learned and witty throughout, Book Was There instructs in the delights of reading, on screen as well as off, by reproducing them anew in every phase of its meditation."
—Garrett Stewart, author of Bookwork

"An exquisite book, richly informed and wonderfully alert to both the riches of the past experience of reading and its potential for the future. Andrew Piper shows that what we think of as reading has always formed part of a wider range of activities and experiences, individual and collective -- and never more so than now, as the page gives way to the screen. Book Was There has an enormous amount to offer anyone interested in the ways we use texts now and the many ways we have done so in the past."
—Anthony Grafton, author of Worlds Made by Words