The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Overview

A reissue of the book that first examined the future of reading and literature in the electronic age, now with a new introduction and Afterword

In our zeal to embrace the wonders of the electronic age, are we sacrificing our literary culture? Renowned critic Sven Birkerts believes the answer is an alarming yes. In The Gutenberg Elegies, he explores the impact of technology on the experience of reading. Drawing on his own passionate, lifelong love of books, Birkerts examines how ...

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The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

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Overview

A reissue of the book that first examined the future of reading and literature in the electronic age, now with a new introduction and Afterword

In our zeal to embrace the wonders of the electronic age, are we sacrificing our literary culture? Renowned critic Sven Birkerts believes the answer is an alarming yes. In The Gutenberg Elegies, he explores the impact of technology on the experience of reading. Drawing on his own passionate, lifelong love of books, Birkerts examines how literature intimately shapes and nourishes the inner life. What does it mean to "hear" a book on audiotape or decipher its words in electronic form on a laptop screen? Can the world created by Henry James exist in an era defined by the work of Bill Gates? Are books as we know them—volumes printed in ink on paper, with pages to be turned as the reading of each page is completed—dead?

At once a celebration of the complex pleasures of reading and a bold challenge to the information technologies of today and tomorrow, The Gutenberg Elegies is an essential volume for anyone who cares about the past and the future of books.

In this boldly original challenge to the new information technologies--an essential work for anyone who cares about the future of books--Birkerts shows how, in our abrupt, heedless switch from book to screen, we as a society are allowing our inner lives to be diminished.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Birkerts on reading fiction is like M.F.K. Fisher on eating or Norman Maclean on fly casting. He makes you want to go do it." —The New Yorker
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this engaging, cautionary look at the impact of modern technology on literary tradition, critic Birkerts warns that the information superhighway poses dire challenges to the vitality of literary criticism. In 15 original essays on the art of reading and the rise of electronic communication, he contends that emerging information technologies, such as the Internet and interactive TV, will result in the erosion of language, a diminishing interest in sustained critical thought and a negligence of the traditional humanities. He explores the pleasures offered by the traditional printed page and debunks the hype surrounding new products like multimedia, audiobooks and hypertext. Birckerts writes lapidary sentences, yet his argument is idiosyncratic, often digressing from larger questions about technology's effect on the reader to personal anecdotes, lists of books he admires and difficult aesthetic ideas. In the debate over the fate of book-publishing in the information age, he offers a useful jeremiad for what he sees as a vanishing literary culture; yet his study's appeal will rest mainly with literary critics. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Birkerts, the author of three books of criticism (American Energies, LJ 6/1/92), has written a collection of 14 essays discussing the changing role of reading as "culture has begun to go through what promises to be a total metamorphosis." However, unlike Richard Lanham in his optimistic The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts (LJ 1/94), Birkerts is more pessimisitic about the future of reading as seductive technologies transform the reader-writer relationship. Through these essays, the author chronicles his passionate relationship with books and ventures into considerable depth on the demise of textual traditions and values. While acknowledging that millions of readers still read books, he is particularly concerned about the loss of readers of true literature. A good complementary volume to Lanham; recommended for academic collections.-Robin P. Peek, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865479579
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 11/14/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 565,381
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sven Birkerts is the author of five books of essays and a memoir. Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard and a member of the core faculty of the Bennington Writing Seminars, he also edits the journal Agni, based at Boston University. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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