Book Traces

This week's review sees books as "social objects" to demonstrate the value of physical collections in an increasingly digital world

Book Traces: Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Library

Stauffer, Andrew M. Pennsylvania, 2021
288p bibl index, 9780812252682 $49.95

Book Traces: Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Library book cover

In the introduction, Stauffer (Univ. of Virginia) outlines two goals for Book Traces: to read 19th-century texts “through the traces left by ordinary nineteenth-century readers” and to “defend the value of the physical, circulating collections” of books from this period housed in academic libraries. Stauffer focuses on books with written commentary, marginalia, inserted ephemera, or other material typically seen as secondary to the printed text. In considering books as receptacles of personal reflections and as social objects, Stauffer shifts these exemplars from “mere copies” on a shelf to “permanent artifacts” offering unique avenues for the exploration and reinterpretation of texts. Concentrating primarily on poetry (Felicia Hemans, William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, et al.), Stauffer documents how dates, annotations, botanical souvenirs, and other evidence of readers shed light on the verse itself. His thorough analysis builds a strong case for retaining such printed material in academic libraries, despite limited shelf space and the existence of these works in the public domain. Written for bibliophiles, textual scholars, literature faculty, librarians, and archivists, this academic text teems with extensive footnotes that make it valuable to larger academic library collections.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals.
Reviewer: R. M. Roberts, Lincoln Land Community College
Subject: Humanities
Choice Issue: Nov 2021

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