Early modern reading

On my wish list for when I have more money (just bought too many books on a trip to London): two recently published books on reading in early modern England.

The first is by Katherine A. Craik, Reading Sensations in Early Modern England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). This book focuses on the bodily effects of reading, a subject that fascinates me. Craik looks at text by Puttenham, Sidney, Donne, Coryat and Brathwait to examine the somatic experience of reading. In a review in The Review of English Studies, Colin Burrow writes that “Her particular theme is the way that the passionate effects of fictions could unman readers, or create turbulence within the ideally controlled masculine body.” I am really interested in this book, particularly in the chapter on Sidney and the literature of choler, because its focus on bodily effects and on the passions resembles things I researched in a theatrical context in my thesis, but also because of a new project that is slowly taking shape in my mind, which will probably unfold itself here in the coming months.

The second is William Sherman’s Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). This is a study of early modern reading habits (earlier posts on this subject here and here). Sherman looks specifically at notes in the margins of books read in the early modern period.

Based on a survey of thousands of early printed books, Used Books describes what readers wrote in and around their books and what we can learn from these marks by using the tools of archaeologists as well as historians and literary critics.

Sherman looks at book-marking in schools and churches, the commonplace books of Sir Julius Caesar and also at one of my favourite signs, the “manicule”.

A paper by William Sherman on the history of this hand-with-pointing-finger symbol is also available online at Lives and Letters. See also the Manicule pool at Flickr; and fists and pointing hands in fonts and on the internet.


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