It’s surprising that one of the most important children’s books of the twentieth century has only recently started receiving the critical attention it deserves. Sara L. Schwebel’s excellent Complete Readers Edition offers a significant contribution to a growing body of book histories about classic children’s literature texts and their impacts on generations of readers. Used by countless American K-12 schools and public libraries from the 1960s onward, O’Dell’s historical fiction robinsonade about the real-life Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, Juana Maria, has been seen as a critical multicultural, feminist young adult text despite some very real concerns about historical accuracy, vanishing Indian tropes, and racism.
Following work at the Bodleian Library, Mark Purcell became responsible for libraries in the care of the British National Trust, and he is now in the research-collections department at Cambridge University. With this background, and with his own scholarly focus on private and country-house libraries, he was eminently qualified to write this fine book. It has more than 225 illustrations, many of them in color.
Phillips divides the book into three sites of social reading: the church, the school, and the home, primarily in English society of the 18th and 19th Century. The church was a place of social identity where hymns were sung. James Martineau, a British Unitarian compiler and hymnist, recorded in his hymn book the dates that hymns were sung. In schools, the hymn book was a way of teaching reading to children. The hymn, “When I Can Read My Title Clear” was one of the most popular family hymns that helped children to read (106). The home was the place of the “private hymnbook” (185). A title such as Hymns for Mothers and Children traveled from one family to another because of its large size and many illustrations. Today, we would probably call this a coffee table book. Phillips points out that his chapters may be read separately or chronologically to give a sense of history.
Nearly every rare book library has at least one extra-illustrated book; many archives hold hundreds of them. Yet the polarizing eighteenth- and nineteenth-century practice of extra-illustration has rarely been studied in its own right. Instead it is generally mentioned only briefly as part of larger arguments about marginalia, book use, and private libraries. Lucy Peltz’s extravagantly illustrated and extraordinarily well-researched Facing the Text: Extra-Illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain 1769-1840 offers a strikingly new approach as it both defines extra-illustration against similar “bibliographic activities” (5) and traces the rise and fall of what might be called its golden age.
Published in the Material Texts series of the University of Pennsylvania Press, Pier Mattia Tommasino’s The Venetial Qur’an is an exemplary work of textual scholarship and a fascinating exploration of the political, religious, and literary milieu of sixteenth-century Italy. Remarkable both for its impressive erudition and refreshing readability, this monograph delves into the history of the (presumably) first translation of the Qur’an from Arabic into a European vernacular language.
The book details the practices and priorities of an evolving US periodical culture by elaborating Melville’s “embeddedness” (8–13) within it. The method foregrounds Thompson’s expert command of the author’s correspondence, publishing relationships, and bibliography. The book takes a “writer’s eye” (7) view with accounts of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine and Putnam’s Monthly focalized through Melville’s transactions with the attendant circle of publishers, editors, and printers.
Nancy Stock-Allen’s book is an unapologetic homage (“Her brief but brilliant career in type design” is the subtitle) to the work of type designer Carol Twombly, whose career bridged the critical moment that typography moved from cold type (photo-based creation and capture that never successfully found its legs) to digital. Adobe Systems, where Twombly worked, was the epicenter of early type development for the digital age. At the time of her entry into professional life, Twombly was one of the very few visible women working in type design.
Juliette Wells’s Reading Austen in America considers Austen’s influence outside of Britain, and it serves as a prequel to her earlier book, Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination (Bloomsbury, 2011). It complements other recent works such as Paula Byrne’s The Genius of Jane Austen (2017), Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen (2017), and Deidre Lynch’s Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees (2000).
The Broadview Introduction to Book History (2017) is an unusual textbook. It provides an informed introduction that is scholarly, concise and accessible to readers at different points in their education. At the same time, it is written in such an animated style and tone that I cannot wait to use it in class and follow through on the suggested readings myself. Although packaged as a companion book to The Broadview Reader in Book History (2014),I found the Introduction to be excellent by itself as it provides such a thorough and contained discussion.
Magda Romanska and Alan Ackerman’s Reader in Comedy is a well-thought-out anthology that embarks on a challenging enterprise: to provide an overview of theories related to comedy, broadly conceived, starting with the ancient Greek comedy and ending with the present-day sitcoms, vaudeville performances, slapstick comedy, and Internet humor. While comedy is traditionally considered peripheral to intellectual culture when compared to tragedy, in this anthology the authors successfully demonstrate that, “from Plato to Aristotle to Henry Bergson and Sigmund Freud, comedy has attracted the attention of serious thinkers” (14) and has been an effective mechanism of social change.