The Book: From Gutenberg to Gaga to Gone?


Is the book really dead? Or is it just resting? Books are both beloved and besieged. They have been transformed over the centuries from Gutenberg’s Bible to Lady Gaga’s confessional photo book to Amazon’s Kindle. What is a book and, if we love them so much, why are they being threatened with extinction? This course will explore the beauty and the power of the book as well as its evolution into some quite new and equally wonderful. We will examine the craft of book making, the art of book writing, the economics of publishing, the politics of authorship, and the power of reading. From treasures to trash, this course will be all books, all the time.

And to make all this more public, we’ll create podcasts during the semester to document what we think about the nature and future of the book. The podcasts will be posted on TheBookMinute and broadcast over CFRU (93.3FM, the Guelph community radio station.

The book is an essential scholarly and cultural artifact that has fundamentally shaped our ability to communicate and learn. The history of the book is very much the history of contemporary thought. However, the book has been transformed almost continuously since Gutenberg and is poised again, through its digital version, to take on new dimensions. Deconstructing the nature and impact of the book requires an assessment and understanding of the physical object and also the roles of the writer, the reader, and the producers.

Examples of the book will be encountered through visits to the Library’s Archival and Special Collection area, the children’s department at the Guelph Public Library, and PS Guelph a handmade printing and bookbinding operation in the city. These visits will create context for a critical examination of the position of books in contemporary life. They will also provide a view into the future of books (in whatever formats emerge or are sustained).

A special all day field trip to Toronto is planned to visit the spectacular Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto (an insider’s tour of their treasurers) and Coach House Press (a wonderful living history of book publishing in Canada). While scheduling this may be difficult for some students, it is an extraordinary opportunity not to be missed if possible.

Students will prepare by reading or reviewing assigned materials allowing them to reflect, discuss, and synthesize the issues whether in class, on the radio, or online. Participating in the radio show and the book creation project allows students, through work teams, to ground their thinking in tangible outcomes.