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Dennis Baron’s “From Pencils to Pixels” and Alberto Manguel’s “The Shape of the Book”

I know people are still getting a handle on the selections from Ong and Plato and things are moving quickly with the short week, but since it is Wednesday, I thought I’d go ahead post about the next couple of groups of readings. Dennis Barron’s “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies,” and Alberto Manguel’s “The Shape of the Book,” are both pretty straight-forward essays, so I’ll only mention a couple of things here to introduce them after the break (click where it says “Continued” to read on):

Dennis Barron’s essay, “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies” has always been one of those “ah-ha!” essays for me as a reader. The part at the beginning of the essay where he’s writing about how he was at a meeting and wanted to write something but all he had was paper and pen and not his computer so he couldn’t really do it. That’s how I am; about the only thing I can do on paper is write a grocery list.

I also think what he says about “The Stages of Literacy Technologies” (this starts on page 71 of the essay) are also interesting to think about, especially in relation to what Alberto Manguel is writing about the way that the literal shape of the book has changed and evolved with different technologies.

By the way, besides the stuff about the pencil that Barron talks about, I also think that the things about the telephone are pretty fascinating, too. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you might want to check out a book called The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage.

Alberto Manguel’s “The Shape of the Book” is also a pretty straight-forward history, I think. This is  a chapter in his book The History of Reading, which is basically a more exhaustive history of how reading has changed. Besides the ways that this essay connects with the others in this section of the class, I thought it was interesting that he points out the different shapes of books influence their purposes. A lot of times, students tell me that they don’t like reading things on screen because when it comes to reading, they like to be able to curl up in bed or sit in the bathtub. This is all fine and good (though I don’t get the reading in the bathtub thing, personally), but this also suggests a very particular kind of reading. Throughout history (including our present day), books have been shaped in different ways depending on the purpose of the book. Some are small and meant to be read in bed, but a lot (the phone book, for example) are not.

Posted in Class Readings.


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