Reid Byers. The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom. Terence Dooley and Christopher Ridgway (editors). Country House Collections: Their Lives and Afterlives.

In 1883, Jules Richard wrote that once a bibliophile has a collection of more than a thousand volumes, the room where they are kept quickly becomes a shrine – ‘devient vite un temple’. Reid Byers cites this observation (p. 4), and it reflects the central theme of his long and interesting book. He opens with a discussion of the simple rooms that held the clay tablets of Sumer and Babylon, and describes the book-boxes in which the Egyptians and the early Greeks put their papyrus scrolls. The rooms in which these chests were kept define what Byers calls ‘type one’ libraries.  Private collections seem to have existed by at least 1500 BCE in Egypt, and were relatively common among scholars by the time of the great philosophers of the Greek ‘Golden Age’.

The St Pancras / Hatchard’s Christmas Tree

Earlier this year I wrote a piece for SHARP news on the new Penguin Books Vending Machine at Exeter Railway Station, including other Penguin initiatives around selling books. Bookending what has been a bumper year for this topic, earlier last month a spectacular Christmas tree was unveiled at St Pancras Station, a collaboration between Penguin and Hatchards. This “magical reading experience”,  an “ode to the wealth of literature that transports us to exciting and novel worlds”, situated in one of London’s busiest stations, is 12 metres high, and has 270 shelves with over 3800 hand-painted books.

Game Reviews: Astrologaster. Nyamyam, 2019. Elsinore. Golden Glitch, 2019.

Digital literature, in which a fictional tale unfolds while a player witnesses but minimally intervenes in its progress, is an obvious example. Two games which invoke early modern England, Elsinore (Golden Flitch, 2019) and Astrologaster (Nyamyam, 2019), and which are both anchored upon the central motif of a book, are especially self-conscious examples of such bookish play – and ones which may challenge SHARP members and their students to see reading and its concurrent activities anew.

The Made-Collectible: The Bookish Iconography of the Franklin Library and FairyLoot

No matter the time or place, the ownership of books has functioned not only as a point of access to texts, but also as a status symbol. There are many ways books can convey that status, including their material characteristics as determined by their makers. A revealing case study of this principle is the rise of FairyLoot, a subscription-based publisher of “exclusive editions,” and how it relates to earlier subscription based “made-collectible” models, like that of the Franklin Library. In short, companies like FairyLoot are this generation’s version of the Franklin Library. The same marketplace principles apply—but because the audience is different, the end result of the manufactured object also differs. What brings these seemingly disparate companies together is their shared strategy of creating books with physical attributes that read to their target audience as “collectible.”

Simon Rowberry. Four Shades of Gray: The Amazon Kindle Platform.

Users of hardware such as the Kindle tend to have a preferred format, sometimes refusing to replace the device until it has completely gone beyond the point of use. This is just one of the phenomena that Simon Peter Rowberry hits on in his book Four Shades of Gray: The Amazon Kindle Platform (a nod to the greyscale used in the first Kindle back in 2007) as he delves into the inner workings of the Kindle, both as a platform and a larger tool in the Amazon ecosystem. This work balances the line in giving the reader valuable technical information, but remaining readable to most of the scholars, students, and publishers who will find merit in this book.