Conference Review: SHARP 2022

Amsterdam’s background complemented the theme of the conference repeatedly, and history joined hands with the contemporary understanding of print culture. In my personal experience, the SHARP 2022 conference was a palimpsest of layers of research, history, and a wide range of enquiries; each layer separated by the keen interest and collaboration.

Mary Clapinson. A Brief History of the Bodleian Library (revised edition). Julia Walworth. Merton College Library.

Taken together, these two recent books provide a succinct – but very satisfying – description of two of the most famous libraries in the world.  In both, the text is accompanied by many appropriate illustrations, virtually all of them in color. In what follows, I emphasize the earliest and most formative years of each institution.

Andie Silva, The Brand of Print: Marketing Paratexts in the Early English Book Trade.

*Disclaimer: the author of the book is the current editor of SHARP News, however she did not procure nor edit this review in any way.*

In a year where bookcase credibility has become a crucial part of academic life, with towers of texts teetering into every Zoom call, Andie Silva’s insistence on the book as cultural commodity in this thought-provoking and innovative monograph is particularly resonant. From the introduction, the originality of Silva’s work becomes apparent as she productively combines contemporary marketing theory and book history. Sidestepping the focus upon the author found in Erne and Kastan, Silva places our attention firmly on “print agents” – a capacious term which here includes printers, publishers, editors, translators, stationers, and book sellers. By exploring the actions of these print agents through marketing theory, this wide-ranging, perceptive book draws together both market choices and cultural value, convincingly and cogently linking the commercial and rhetorical characteristics of the early modern marketplace of books and ideas. Silva challenges the distinctions that often stymie early modern book history: between reading for profit and reading for pleasure, literary and non-literary texts, canonical woks and printed ephemera, manuscript and print. 

Tessa Jordan. Feminist Acts: Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism.

“‘If you wish to write about your children, may we suggest Ladies’ Home Journal? We are a literary magazine’” (156). The above statement, received by American Pulitzer Prize winner Sharon Olds and recorded by Tessa Jordan in Feminist Acts, situates the need feminists felt to create their own magazines in Canada in the 1970s. At the time, women had scant few spaces in which to display their creative output and political opinions, and many women suffered from the assumptions of editors and art critics that their works were simply not as good as those by men. If that was true for women in the dominant print culture of the United States, what were feminists in the Canadian Prairies meant to do? It is against this backdrop that the Canadian feminist periodical Branching Out appeared.

Harrington-Lueker, Donna. Books for Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer Reading.

While we may sometimes remember particular “beach reads” and other vacation reading we bring with us, most of the light reading that dominates the myriad summer reading lists isn’t meant to last. Donna Harrington-Lueker has traced the origins of the phenomenon of summer reading in the late-nineteenth-century United States, highlighting the role of ephemerality and entertainment as publishers and reviewers developed the concept of “summer reading,” as well as how tenacious many of the practices of summer reading are, from reading in public spaces to stockpiling books in convenient corners of a hotel room or guest house.