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Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the…
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Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World (edition 2006)

by Nicholas A. Basbanes (Author)

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737721,929 (4.11)39
In celebration of five eventful centuries of the printed word, Basbanes considers of writings that have "made things happen" in the world, works that have both nudged the course of history and fired the imagination of influential people. Basbanes asks what we can know about such figures as Milton, Gibbon, Locke, Newton, Coleridge, John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Henry James, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller--even the Marquis de Sade and Hitler--by knowing what they read. He shows how books that these people have consulted, in some cases annotated with their marginal notes, can offer clues to the development of their thought. He then profiles some of the most articulate readers of our time, who discuss such concepts as literary canons, classic works in translation, the timelessness of poetry, the formation of sacred texts, and the power of literature to train physicians, nurture children, and rehabilitate criminal offenders.--From publisher description.… (more)
Member:AlanaAssimina
Title:Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
Authors:Nicholas A. Basbanes (Author)
Info:Harper Perennial (2006), Edition: First Thus, 384 pages
Collections:Untitled collection
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Tags:Books on books

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Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World by Nicholas A. Basbanes

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I picked this up on a whim at the Harvard Book Store sometime early last spring when I was feeling like I wasn't reading enough grown-up books. I read the first half and really enjoyed it, but then got distracted by some other book that needed to be read. I picked it up again when I needed something to read while I waited for the next group of requests from the library. I picked up where I left off a year ago, and slipped right back into it.

I particularly enjoyed the first few chapters, which discussed some of the earliest known literature and how our relationship to it changes over time. I made a lot of notes in the margins about the correlations to my own ideas about the cultural history of fairy tales.

This book made me even more aware of the gaping holes in my knowledge of literature. I wasn't an English major in college because I didn't want to have to read all those Dead White Males (and after reading chapter 10, I have a better understanding of where that came from), but now I realize how much I've missed out on. Of course, it would take most of a lifetime to get caught up, but I may have to try to tackle one each summer, or something like that.

I was really, genuinely sad when I reached the last chapter, and I wanted to immediately start it over again. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in cultural studies or the history of literature. ( )
  amandabock | Dec 10, 2019 |
Basbanes is an editor, book reviewer, and bibliophile who begins (“The Magic Door”) with accounts of how important books can be in personal cases, to the dying or the imprisoned (Terry Waite, Anne Frank), or how important they can be at a remove from their obscure beginnings (Robert Goddard’s rocketry book and the Nazis), or how important it is to take them seriously, as in S. R. Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science: Books Are for Use, A Reader’s Time Is precious, Libraries Are Growing Organisms, Every Reader His Book, and Every Book Its Reader. Basbanes has a fairly commonplace mind, but he is very thorough, and the result is that his book sometimes reads like a list.
“One Out of Many” is about lists: the implicit list in an exhibit such as the 1963 Printing and the Mind of Man or the Grolier Club One Hundred Influential American Books, or the actual lists such as Asa Don Dickinson’s one thousand annotated titles in The Best Books of Our Time: 1901-1925, the 1928 The Harvard Guide to Influential Books (113 professors talk about “the books that have shaped their thinking”), the 1939 Books That Changed Our Minds by Malcolm Cowley and Bernard Smith (20th-century nonfiction), and a number of lists that appeared in the late 1990s that attempted to include influential works of the century, of the millennium, or of all time.
“The Eye of the Beholder” begins with Basbane talking about interviewing authors (the core of the book is a number of such interviews) and includes his asking them how they would interview Shakespeare. Second-guessers about Shakespeare’s reading, obviously extensive, have sometimes concluded that a grammar-school-educated boy from the provinces could hardly have written Shakespeare’s plays. Basbanes mentions the Bowdlers, Thomas and Henrietta, who undertook to make Shakespeare safe for all readers, and he points out, apropos of post-9/11 surveillance of reading under the Patriot Act, that professionals reading Theodore Kaczynski’s manifesto and evaluating what he read and mentioned there didn’t get very far in identifying him; one reader—his brother—did that.
Leon Edel called Henry James’s notes in his books “Silent Witnesses.” Basbanes examines known instances where a book inspired an author: Melville’s reading about a whale sinking the Essex, Twain’s reading of Malory’s Le Morte d”Arthur, Philip Roth reading Arthur Schlesinger’s mentioning that some Republicans wanted to run Lindbergh for president in 1940.
“In the Margins” begins with the greatest marginalist (and the inventor of the word marginalia), Coleridge, whose marginalia were studied by Heather Jackson, who went on to study the subject of marginalia itself. He moves from marginalia to the study of the history of reading (he notes Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine’s study of Gabriel Harvey’s rereading of Livy’s History of Rome over twenty years). He discusses complete or almost complete libraries of various people, available for research, and segues into studies of reading such as Kevin Sharpe’s Reading Revolutions, James Secord’s Victorian Sensation (about the anonymous 1844 Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and its impact in the years before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, and William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, all published in 2000.
The history of the book, says Basbanes, “takes a more concrete approach” than the history of reading, being “concerned fundamentally with the book as material object, its physical makeup as an artifact, its production, distribution, and circulation.” He cites Elizabeth Eisenstein’s 1979 The printing Press as an Agent of Change (the effect of printed matter on the Protestant Reformation) and Robert Darnton’s studies of the book and its effects in pre-Revolutionary France.
In “Paving the Way,” Basbanes talks about books that helped develop ideas and store minds: Locke and its influence on Jefferson’s Declaration, Addison’s Cato and its being echoed by Washington, by Adams (“we cannot insure success, but we can deserve it”) and Nathan Hale (“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”). He quotes David McCullough that in the eighteenth century many believed that there was nothing a person could not learn from books, and Washington promoted several people to high military office on the strength of their book knowledge alone. He talks about the reading of various presidents (and their writing, in the cases of Grant and Theodore Roosevelt) and monarchs, including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and that other translator of Boethius, Alfred the Great.
Writing about translation in “A Terrible Beauty,” Basbanes interviews Robert Fagles and talks about his and others’ (Pope, Chapman, Dryden) translations of Homer and Virgil, William H. Gass’s translation of Rilke, the translation of Proust by Scott Moncrieff and others, Proust’s translation of Ruskin, Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote, and Breon Mitchell’s translation of Kafka.
“Gospel Truth” starts with a discussion with Elaine Pagels, who has written about the Gnostic gospels, the book of Thomas, and the development in early Christianity not only of the biblical canon but of what would constitute faith. Basbanes discusses other writers on this subject, including Bart Ehrman (Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament) and Jaroslav Pelikan (Whose Bible Is it?), who has compared interpretation of the New Testament with that of the U. S. Constitution. He notes that [while the “Bible” means “the book”] the Koran or Qur’an means “reading” and “reciting.” among other texts with the status of scripture [“the writing”] he mentions Mary Baker Glover, later Eddy, and Science and Health (1875).
“Harvest of Riches” is mostly about Matthew J. Bruccoli [pronounced “brook-lee”] and his various collections, mostly having to do with Scott Fitzgerald, at South Carolina. Basbanes also interviews Daniel Aaron, the first president of the Library of America, an idea of Edmund Wilson’s, long opposed by the MLA, but eventually realized after Wilson’s death in 1972.
“Born to Grapple” is largely about Harold Bloom and his struggle against the modern approach to the teaching of literature, which has little to do with appreciation and everything to do with representation. The chapter also contains interviews with Helen Vendler and Christopher Ricks, who had just published a book about Bob Dylan’s lyrics.
The first section of “Reaching Out” concerns first reading experiences of Jean Paul Sartre (taught himself to read at four using Hector Malot’s novel Sans Famille), Thomas Edison (Basbanes talked to Paul Israel, Edison’s biographer), Helen Keller (recounted in The Story of My Life), and Frederick Douglass, for whom learning to read and write was literally a ticket out of slavery (as he tells in the Narrative).
Basbanes notes that the eighth edition of Baby and Child Care (2004), the first since Benjamin Spock’s death in 1998, contains a chapter on reading aloud by Dr. Robert Needlbaum, who revised the book and who co-founded “Reach Out and Read” with Dr. Barry Zuckerman in 1989 (free books to new parents along with advice and guidance about reading aloud, given at regular pediatric checkups). Perri Klas, an author and pediatrician, is medical director and president of the program, and Basbanes talked to her.
Malcolm X did not learn to read in infancy, as he recounts in the autobiography he wrote with Alex Haley. He taught himself to read while in the Norfolk, Massachusetts prison, beginning by copying words from a dictionary. The Malcolm X section is a segue into Basbane’s encounter with Robert Waxler, whose “alternative sentencing program,” also known as Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) substitutes readings in American Literature for hard time for criminal offenses. Applicants have to have 8th-grade reading skills and be able to make it through complete books, and they must read six novels and an equivalent number of short stories and participate in discussions each week over the three-month course. At least one study shows the recidivism rate for CLTL participants was half that of a control group of offenders.
Basbane’s epilogue is called “Full Circle: A Final Stroke,” and concerns a British Museum exhibit of the Lindisfarne Gospels in 2003, forty years after the exhibit with which he began the book. ( )
1 vote michaelm42071 | Aug 31, 2009 |
This was an impulse purchase because of the opening chapter that tells of the woman who wanted to buy 4 books but didn’t want to waste her money because she was poor. This inspiring story made me want this book—and it was a great choice for me. It is a book I will refer to often. It deals with many aspects of reading; many well known readers, authors and their libraries are discussed. Every chapter is fascinating and there are many ideas of authors to discover and books to peruse. This book started me on my McCullough “kick” (an author I have long thought about reading but never got around to) and there are many more authors to sample later. Every chapter covers a different aspect of books. One of my favorite chapters is on “marginalia”—what we can learn from the notes people leave behind in their books. I’ve left quite a bit of marginalia in this book thee first time through and I expect I will leave more through the years. ( )
  MusicMom41 | May 29, 2008 |
A powerful study of the influence books, and the ideas they generate, to shape our world and how we view the world. Basbanes cannot write a bad book. ( )
  kingcvcnc | Jun 25, 2007 |
In interviews with dozens of authors, scholars, and readers in fields ranging from biblical history to medicine to literature, Basbanes makes clear how reading influences the worldview of the reader, which in turn influences what gets written and what gets read.

Another well researched, highly readable, and inspiring book from Basbanes. ( )
  paleobibliomaniac | Nov 30, 2006 |
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Epigraph
There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book. Everything that filled them for others, so it seemed, and that we dismissed as a vulgar obstacle to a divine pleasure: the game for which a friend would come to fetch us at the most interesting passage; the troublesome bee or sun ray that forced us to lift our eyes from the page or to change position; the provisions for the afternoon snack that we had been made to take along and that we left beside us on the bench, without touching, while above our head the sun was diminishing in force in the blue sky; the dinner that we had to return home for, and during which we thought of only going up immediately afterward to finish the interrupted chapter, all those things which reading should have kept us from feeling anything but annoyance at, it has on the contrary engraved in us so sweet a memory of (so much more precious to out present judgment than what we read then with such love), that if we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and the ponds that no longer exist.

--Marcel Proust, "On Reading" (1906)
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For Connie, my reader of first resort
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In the early years of the twentieth century a woman named May Lamberton Becker (1873-1958) enjoyed enormous popularity for the "Readers Guide" columns she wrote for the New York Evening Post, and later the Saturday Review of Literature.
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In celebration of five eventful centuries of the printed word, Basbanes considers of writings that have "made things happen" in the world, works that have both nudged the course of history and fired the imagination of influential people. Basbanes asks what we can know about such figures as Milton, Gibbon, Locke, Newton, Coleridge, John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Henry James, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller--even the Marquis de Sade and Hitler--by knowing what they read. He shows how books that these people have consulted, in some cases annotated with their marginal notes, can offer clues to the development of their thought. He then profiles some of the most articulate readers of our time, who discuss such concepts as literary canons, classic works in translation, the timelessness of poetry, the formation of sacred texts, and the power of literature to train physicians, nurture children, and rehabilitate criminal offenders.--From publisher description.

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