Sep 18, 2014

When books change

In my copy of Elmer Gantry, one sentence is underlined six times: "He had, in fact, got everything from church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason."

That sums up Sinclair Lewis' 1927 satire of scandalous fundamentalist ministers pretty well. None of the underlinings are mine, though. I have a Kindle version of Elmer Gantry, so this is a "popular highlight," a sentence noted by other readers, on other e-devices.

The e-book is the latest in a line of changes in the production of the book. Its newness helps call attention to how books are consumed. Books are often thought of as just ideas. When ideas are consumed, though, they have physical form as a book. If you want to think about when and where and how books are used, it's useful to track how books and book markets change. Elmer Gantry has lived through a number of important changes.

Read the full essay in the Then & Now column at The Christian Century.