Wednesday 11 November 2020

Book Review: Bookishness - Loving Books in a Digital Age by Jessica Pressman (Non-Fiction)

Title: Bookishness - Loving Books in a Digital Age
Author: Jessica Pressman
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication Date: 1 December 2020
eBook - PDF
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: ARC via NetGalley

Twenty-first-century culture is obsessed with books. In a time when many voices have joined to predict the death of print, books continue to resurface in new and unexpected ways. From the proliferation of "shelfies" to Jane Austen-themed leggings and from decorative pillows printed with beloved book covers to bookwork sculptures exhibited in prestigious collections, books are everywhere and are not just for reading. Writers have caught up with this trend: many contemporary novels depict books as central characters or fetishize paper and print thematically and formally.

Bookishness, Jessica Pressman examines the new status of the book as object and symbol. She explores the rise of "bookishness" as an identity and an aesthetic strategy that proliferates from store-window d├ęcor to experimental writing. Ranging from literature to kitsch objects, stop-motion animation films to book design, Pressman considers the multivalent meanings of books in contemporary culture. Books can represent shelter from--or a weapon against--the dangers of the digital; they can act as memorials and express a sense of loss. Examining the works of writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Jennifer Egan, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Leanne Shapton, Pressman illuminates the status of the book as a fetish object and its significance for understanding contemporary fakery. Bringing together media studies, book history, and literary criticism, Bookishness explains how books still give meaning to our lives in a digital age. 


When I saw Bookishness available for request on NetGalley it sounded like just the book for me. I have been an avid reader since childhood, and in addition to books themselves, I love book-related objects. I had anticipated this work would be a discussion of the rise of bookish items in different settings, and to some extent it was; however, a good chunk of the text was dedicated to reviewing/dissecting books the author believed were a reaction to the supposed death of the book in physical form. That might have been interesting had I known the works in question, but I had never even heard of any of them, let alone read them. To put that in context, I read, on average, 200 books a year. Those texts include works both old and new across a wide range of genres. Yet the books referenced meant nothing to me. Not even the authors' names rang any bells, suggesting that the average reader might not have come across them either. I therefore skimmed through those chapters, since I had no reference point for the discussion. In conclusion, while there were some interesting passages, I felt the focus of Bookishness was too narrow to make it appealing to the general reader/book fan. Only someone who has read a lot of experimental fiction and knows all the works mentioned will really get the full benefit. Perhaps the blurb is somewhat to blame, as it suggested a different focal point for the book than the one actually provided in the text. In the end, I would give this work three stars. I liked the idea, but the narrow focus alienates the average reader, and a more general overview of bookish items might have welcomed a wider audience.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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