Archive for About the Book

Easter Egg Hunt

It still may be one more day until THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT, but what would Easter be (even if a day late) without an Easter egg? I’ve placed one somewhere on this blog.  If you find it, then you’ll get to learn the news a full day before rest of the world.

Happy hunting!


Big Announcement Coming Soon!

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog that I’ve got a big announcement in store for you.  I’ve finally managed to secure all of the necessary okays, and so I’ll be rolling out the news on TUESDAY, APRIL 6th. Be sure to check back then…


The End of Publishing (Books Are Dead and Boring)

I heard about this video from the good folks over at BoingBoing and just knew I had to share it with all of you here at The Late Age of Print.  Now, I generally don’t make a habit of posting corporate promotional videos, but this one’s a gem.  Truly.

DK, a subsidiary of Penguin, originally created this ingenious short for a sales conference.  Spoiler alert: it plays upon and then completely reverses a host of misconceptions people have about so-called “digital natives.”  Be sure to watch the whole thing through, because there’s a good bit of misdirection going on in the first half.

I’m working on something BIG at the moment related to Late Age, and so I’m not going to blather on at length about the video.  Just enjoy it, and consider it a little something to tide you over.  Hopefully I’ll be able to roll out the big news in a week or so.

One other quick announcement: Columbia University Press, my publisher, is currently holding its annual spring sale. The Late Age of Print is 50% off the cover price, which is a steal.  Stock up and save!


Going Mobile

Great news!  A good Samaritan, whose handle is “creiercret,” recently uploaded the free, Creative Commons-licensed PDF of The Late Age of Print onto the document sharing site, Scribd.  Here’s the link to the PDF if you’re interested in checking it out.  The book has already had more than 100 views on the site, I’m pleased to report.

Late Age has been accessible for free online for almost a year, so why am I so excited to see it appear now on Scribd?  Mainly because the site just added new sharing features, making it easy to send content to iPhones, Nooks, Kindles, and just about every other major e-reader you can imagine.  In other words, The Late Age of Print’s mobility-quotient just increased significantly.

I may have some more exciting, mobility-related news about the book, which hopefully I’ll be able to share with you in the next week or so.  I’ll keep you posted.  Until then, be sure to check out The Late Age of Print on Scribd, and why don’t you go ahead shoot a copy off to your favorite e-reader while you’re at it!?



I’ve been fortunate to have received some really excellent reviews of The Late Age of Print in its first year of publication.  Maybe even more exciting than all of this positive response has been the book’s inclusion on several top-ten of 2009 lists.  A couple of weeks ago Michael Lieberman over at Book Patrol (hosted on The Seattle Post-Intelligencer) included Late Age in his top-ten “books about books” of the year.  Last week Chapman/Chapman’s Ryan Chapman featured the book in his “Best Books of 2009” post, calling it a “foundational text.”  And just yesterday Conversational Reading’s Scott Esposito gave the book a big shout by adding it to his “Favorite Reads of the Year” list.

So, with the end of 2009 almost in sight, I want to thank Michael, Ryan, Scott, and all of those who’ve supported the book this year, as well all of you readers out there who’ve been taking in, Tweeting about, and commenting on this blog.  I also want to acknowledge the hard work of José Afonso Furtado, a tremendous supporter of The Late Age of Print in all its forms, whose Twitter feed I piggy-back on.  Finally, I owe a heartfelt thanks to all the great folks at Columbia University Press and particularly my editor, Philip Leventhal, about whom I cannot say enough good things.

I realize that this post probably sounds as though I’m signing off for the year.  Don’t worry, I’m not.  I’ll be back again in 2009 with more dispatches from the late age of print.


Late Age Meets Mrs. Dalloway

I just came across this image by David Silver, who is a professor and leading cyberculture researcher based at the University of San Francisco.  On September 13, 2009, he snapped this picture of the window display of Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Garden Arts, a bookstore in Berkeley, California.


The Late Age of Print @ Mrs. Dalloway's

What’s that you see there, just right of center?  Why, it’s The Late Age of Print, of course! What a thrill to see it there!  I’ll have to follow up with David for some back-story.  For now, I can tell you that I initially stumbled across the image when a Google search led me to David’s Flikr stream.

Thanks, David — and my gratitude goes out to Mrs. Dalloway’s for not only carrying but indeed featuring the book.  If those of you reading this blog happen to see The Late Age of Print in a bookstore, library, or anywhere else in public, snap a photo, send it to me (, and I’ll post it here.


Honors Convocation at University of Illinois

Unlike bestselling writers, academic authors rarely get sent out on book tours.  From time to time, however, we do have the good fortune of getting invited to speak to audiences in various parts of the country about our work.  Case in point: I just returned from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I delivered the convocation address for the Campus Honors Program (CHP).  This was the first in a series of speaking engagements that, so far, will take me to Iowa, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.  A few more and I may print up a t-shirt.

The event at U of I was a blast.  It began in the office of Professor Bruce Michelson, the director of the CHP.  We chatted one-on-one for about an hour about literary history, the future of the book, religious publishing in the United States, and a host of other engaging topics.  From there we adjourned to the Illini Union.  I delivered my speech entitled “The Abuses of Literacy: Amazon Kindle and the Right to Read” — which focuses on electronic reading, liberal political culture, and privacy rights — to a lively group of about 60 undergraduate honor students.  They peppered me with incisive questions about my stance on copyright, the future of public libraries in an age of ubiquitous bookselling, the implementation of a “right to read,” digital dossiers, and more.  The group kept me on my toes, to be sure.

The title slide from my presentation, "The Abuses of Literacy"

The title slide from my presentation, "The Abuses of Literacy"

The evening concluded with a lovely “meet the author” reception at Professor Michelson’s house.  The CHP students had been given copies of The Late Age of Print over the summer, and so they came prepared ready to discuss Harry Potter, Oprah, the future of printed books, and even some material well beyond the scope of the book, including what I thought about online learning.  What an edifying discussion it was — for me!  The most memorable question?  “What would I say to Oprah if I ever had the chance to meet her?”  My favorite moment?  When multiple students told me that they had found Late Age to be accessible and intellectually engaging — my use of the word “incunabula” notwithstanding.

Before the CHPers headed home for the night, they lined up for an impromptu book signing.  Though I’ve inscribed a few books here and there, this was my first (and maybe my only) official book signing.  It really made me feel special.  Indeed, I was overwhelmed to see so many copies of Late Age — more than I’d ever seen gathered in any one place.  And what made me feel even more special was the knowledge that the books had been placed in the hands of incredibly bright people who’d closely read and carefully considered what I had to say.  What more could an author hope for?


Now, About That Cover…

The Late Age of Print has been receiving lots of praise since its release back in March.  What’s intriguing from an author’s standpoint is that the book’s cover has received almost as much attention as its content.

Some writers would be put off by this, believing that what really counts is the stuff that lies between the covers.  Not I.  I’m acutely aware that books are meant to be sold as much as they’re meant to be read.  In fact, in my undergraduate “Cultures of Books and Reading Class,” I have an assignment in which I ask my students to “judge a book by its cover” — that is, to explain what they can learn about a book and its audience strictly by virtue of its design.

Anyway, scores of people have commented to me in person about The Late Age of Print’s eye-catching cover, and many have asked me to share the story behind it.  I figured some of you reading might be interested to hear the story, too.

On the one hand, I had a strong sense of what I absolutely did not want to appear on the cover.  Far too many books about books (as the genre is called) feature over-stuffed leather armchairs, hand-engraved mahogany bookcases, leather book marks, stacks of printed books shot in soft-focus, readers relaxing comfortably under a heap of toasty blankets — you get the drill.  Basically, most books about books tend to aestheticize the printed book as an object by stressing its relationship to high culture.  Since Late Age is largely about the book as an industrial artifact, I wanted something much grittier — plus, it never hurts to have a book cover that doesn’t look exactly like everyone else’s (more on that later).

On the other hand, I didn’t want to go too far in the opposite direction with the cover.  That is, even though I didn’t want to overly-aestheticize books, I also didn’t want to convey a sense in which they were simply moribund things of the past.  There’s a growing contingent of books about books that unfortunately tries to do exactly that.  Most feature cover images in which book text is replaced with binary code or something to that effect, as if to convey the inevitable digitization — and by extension the disappearance — of the printed word.  Books are changing, no doubt, but for my part I remain convinced that print in some form is here to stay.

So I didn’t want a cover that made books into romantic objects, nor did I want a cover that suggested that print was dead. The Late Age of Print is a book about the past, present, and future of book publishing, and so I knew early on that I wanted some type of cover image that would represent the themes of permanence and change.  Much later, as I looked at the books about books appearing on my bookshelf at home, I decided that I wanted a more abstract type of design, since many titles in my opinion overly-literalized their subject matter.

To my good fortune, a friend of mine from graduate school happened upon the work of the Houston, Texas-based photographer, Cara Barer.  Barer purchases old books, wets them, dries them, and then photographs them.  I loved her process and the resulting images (there are many more besides the one appearing on my cover), which to my mind strikingly captured both the fragility and endurance of printed books.  This was exactly the message I wanted to convey.

I wasn’t sure if my publisher, Columbia University Press, would be inclined to use one of her images, if for no other reason than I figured they must be pricey given their beauty.  When filling out the section on cover art on my author questionnaire, I almost didn’t mention Barer’s work for that reason.  In the end I decided to let it fly, and a few weeks later the designer returned with what is now the cover of Late Age. It was a stunning exercise in design minimalism, at least as far as I was (and am) concerned.

The postscript to this story is that others, apparently, have now discovered Barer’s images.  The most prominent example can be seen in Michael Greenberg’s upcoming book, Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life (Other Press, September 2009), which a friend of mine alerted me to this summer:

Beg, Borrow, Steal
Galley Cat
noted the similarities in our covers earlier this week, and a commentator there linked to a whole blog devoted to look-alike covers.  For my part I’m not bothered at all by the similarities, though I’d now be curious to hear the story behind Michael Greenberg’s cover.