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How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain
How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain
Leah Price
Princeton University Press, 2012
360 pp., 35.0

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Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson

How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain

In the March/April issue, I devoted this space to Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, published by Yale University Press and edited by Leah Price, a scholar at Harvard. This column continues the conversation, taking up Price's How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, published in May by Princeton University Press.

If you are a literary scholar or a historian whose turf is Victorian Studies (the "thriving academic subfield" examined by Timothy Larsen in the May/June issue in his review of Charles LaPorte's Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible), you are probably aware of Price's book already. If not, you should add it to your must-read list. If you are interested more generally in the history of the book and reading, especially in connection with current talk about the state and fate of reading—if, for example, you enjoyed Alan Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction—you should read Price. And if you have noted the revival of "materialism"—as a creed, so to speak, in which the writer explicitly affirms his or her faith—you will certainly want to get this book.

Revival? When did "materialism" go away? It was unfashionable for quite a while to affirm "materialism" in academic circles, even as "naturalism" (say) remained untainted. There were always unrepentant holdouts, of course, but the notion had come to seem a bit crude (owing in part, perhaps, to unfortunate associations with "dialectical materialism" as the official philosophy of the Soviet Union). In recent years, however—not least because it had been mildly repressed—"materialism" has returned with a frisson. For two examples from a wide field, consider Daniel Tiffany's Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric and Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. (The ecstasy with which Greenblatt's book has been received is ...

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