Most of what we say about books is really about the words inside them: the rosy nostalgic glow for childhood reading, the lifetime companionship of a much-loved novel. But books are things as well as words, objects in our lives as well as worlds in our heads. And just as we crack their spines, loosen their leaves and write in their margins, so they disrupt and disorder us in turn. All books are, as Stephen King put it, ‘a uniquely portable magic’. Emma Smith shows us why.
Portable Magic unfurls an exciting and iconoclastic new story of the book in human hands, exploring when, why and how it acquired its particular hold over us.
Gathering together a millennium’s worth of pivotal encounters with volumes big and small, Smith reveals that, as much as their contents, it is books’ physical form – their ‘bookhood’ – that lends them their distinctive and sometimes dangerous magic.
Portable Magic hails the rise of the mass-market paperback, and dismantles the myth that print began with Gutenberg; it reveals how our reading habits have been shaped by American soldiers, and proposes new definitions of a ‘classic’ – and even of the book itself. Ultimately, it illuminates the ways in which our relationship with the written word is more reciprocal – and more turbulent – than we tend to imagine.
Emma Smith was born and brought up in Leeds, went unexpectedly to university in Oxford, and never really left. She is now Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College and the author of the Sunday Times bestseller This is Shakespeare. She enjoys silent films, birdwatching, and fast cars.
Members: Free, Online or Victoria Hall
Non-Members: £5, Online or Victoria Hall
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