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Penguin Book Vending Machines

I’ve had a long-held interest in Penguin’s infamous Penguincubator, and bookshops more generally, and saw an opportunity to combine both for a couple of conference papers this year.  And then – on the 24th March, my inbox and social media feeds started to light up.  A new Penguin books vending machine had been installed at Exeter railway station, and people were extremely excited.  And I mean, extremely excited.  Suddenly, I was trying to process all the pictures being posted, comments logged, and articles written: I wanted to use the research to highlight some of the challenges of pursuing bookselling histories, but I hadn’t anticipated this would become such a timely tie-in with what Penguin were doing. 

G. Thomas Tanselle, Descriptive Bibliography.

Descriptive Bibliography embodies G. Thomas Tanselle’s lifelong dedication and significant, enviable contributions to the discipline; and its content amounts to a cornucopia of bibliographical delights for those seeking to learn, reinforce or revisit what descriptive bibliography is and its “role as history and biography” (page 28), such as from aspiring higher-degree students, early- to mid-career scholars, to researchers from adjacent disciplines, such as library cataloguing, whose work exists tangentially to, or intermixes with, that of bibliographers. The book’s objective to “offer a comprehensive guide to descriptive bibliography” (page ix), though limited to printed books, is without doubt (and, given the author, predictably) achieved. 

Alberto Gabriele. The Emergence of Pre-Cinema: Print Culture and the Optical Toy of the Literary Imagination.

The Emergence of Pre-Cinema is a genealogical study that traces the dispersed history of self-reflexivity and fragmentation in the context of nineteenth century culture and print-based literary forms. The aim is to observe these phenomena in relation to their past and their future, from Baroque precursors through the twentieth-century avant-garde, beyond national borders or a predetermined periodization. The optical toys such as flipbooks or thaumatropes that the author references in the subtitle of his book draw attention to the sense of vision, subjective modes of perception, movement, and temporality. Gabriele is interested in visualizations within literary texts such as montage-like, fragmentary forms of writing by Friedrich Schlegel or cartographic imagination and panoramic descriptions of Italian landscape in painterly writing by Ann Radcliffe, for example. These multisensory and multidirectional “visions mediated by the technology of print culture” are prescient at times or contemporaneous with the technologies of early cinema. Gabriele is intent on acknowledging their long history side by side and in contrast to linear, often technologically determined narratives surrounding the invention of optical devices and the history of cinema.

Dennis Duncan. Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age.

he history of the index, it turns out in Duncan’s equally excellent and entertaining historical survey, has much to tell us about the history of how texts were used between the thirteenth century and the present day, and how producers of books have aimed to answer the demands of those developing uses within the confines of the available technologies of their times.

Under Your Skin: A History of the Necronomicon and Skin-Bound Books

The absence of evil books in real life hasn’t stopped us from imagining them in all manner of genres both past and present. And we love a good evil book, don’t we? Whether it’s Mister Babadook demanding entry into your home, the King in Yellow bringing carnage and ruin to the stage, or the Spirit grimoire manipulating a young magician in The Care Bears Movie, our fascination with malevolent tomes and nefarious publications continues to thrive. One of the more popular, if not the most popular, versions of this trope is the Necronomicon, a book as notorious as it is fictitious.