Asking me what I have learnt about book history and material culture in the two weeks since I have studied this module is kind of like asking me what I have had for lunch every day since the age of five: namely, there is too much information to recall. As a literature student and an avid bibliophile, I think it is shameful that I have gotten this far and not realised just how important book history is. I do not think I am the only reader that has been brought up in an isolated bubble where books come to you via the medium of the bookshop or the web, and the toil and labour of the many different agents that produced the book are just forgotten echoes mixed into the paper’s relative GSM.
So far, the essays we have looked at by Robert Darnton on Book History, and the essays we have read on the merits (or de-merits) of distant reading have opened my eyes. As a strong advocate of close reading – mainly because I was not aware that another approach to studying existed – I have struggled with the concepts of distant reading thus far. But I am getting there. I am beginning to see the beauty of a project undertaken with the level of knowledge and expertise you could gain from distant reading mediated by the inherently humanistic, passionate and philosophical musings of a scholar: the result could be spectacular.
I’m not saying I am completely converted. I see many potential flaws with the distant reading theory of Franco Moretti (how can you claim to have an understanding of literature without reading a book??) and I am self-confessedly rather old fashioned in my reading habits. But, simultaneously, I am happy enough to use the bonuses of Google Books and Amazon when it suits me. I will use whatever means I can to further my understanding and love of literature.
And that is what it all comes down to for me. I can debate and worry over the many advantages and disadvantages of approaches to reading, whether I am better off perusing the digital version versus the original material copy, and just how indoctrinated I have become into purchasing a certain book from a certain publisher via a certain seller, to name but a few; Or, I can appreciate the inclusiveness of the Digital Humanities, feel elated at how many people books and journals etc. can reach now due to Open Access, and just be grateful that I am an active part of that culture. I am proud to be a student of literature, and I am even prouder that I can share that with other like-minded individuals.