What is a book? From papyrus to paperbacks, humans have cataloged their thoughts, desires, mindless scribblings, and greatest works of art in myriad physical forms. Most familiar to us is the ubiquitous form of the book. What, however, makes a reader understand something as a book? Is it the shape and form of the book? Does the author make the book? Or, perhaps the genre gives shape to the book. Does the physical form of the book change our understanding of its contents or even the way we read? How do communities form around books? At stake in these questions is not just what constitutes a book but also how we imagine the process of reading and the ways it is structured both materially and societally.
This course asks you to contemplate and write about what makes a book both materially and textually across a broad historical span, from medieval manuscripts and Victorian serial novels to Harry Potter and steamy romances. Readings will be drawn from a variety of disciplines like history, philosophy, sociology, cognitive science, economics, and English, and from a variety of authors like Barthes, Chartier, and Bourdieu among others. Drawing heavily on Beinecke Rare Book Library and British Arts Center resources, this course will ask you to physically interact with material books from a variety of periods and invite you to consider the social and cultural ramifications of how we read these objects. Using these resources, you will begin to formulate your own answers to the question of who or what makes a book.