In our zeal to embrace the wonders of the electronic age, are we sacrificing our literary culture? Sven Birkerts believes the answer is an alarming yes. In The Gutenberg Elegies, he explores the impact of technology on the experience of reading, examining how literature intimately shapes and nourishes the inner life. What does it mean to "hear" a book on audiotape or decipher its words in electronic form on a laptop screen? Can the world created by Henry James exist in an era defined by the work of Bill Gates? Are books as we know them—volumes printed in ink on paper, with pages to be turned as the reading of each page is completed—dead?
At once a celebration of the complex pleasures of reading and a bold challenge to the information technologies of today and tomorrow, The Gutenberg Elegies is an anyone interested about the past and the future of books.
"Birkerts' argument is persuasive, not only in its content but in its manner. His writing, which questions and muses at the leisurely pace of human speech, and which evinces both intelligence and feeling, reveals a complex individual personality, providing that vertical kind of connectedness that a thousand e-mail messages cannot."—San Francisco Chronicle
"Birkerts on reading fiction is like M.F.K. Fisher on eating or Norman Maclean on fly casting. He makes you want to go do it."—The New Yorker
"A wise and humane book . . . [Birkerts] is telling us, in short, nothing less than what reading means and why it matters."—The Boston Sunday Globe
"The Gutenberg Elegies is both a celebration and a warning, a very important collection of essays for everyone who loves books, the reading as well as the writing of them. The stakes of his arguments could very well be our souls."—Booklist
"Birkerts, the author of three books of criticism, has written a collection of 14 essays discussing the changing role of reading as 'culture has begun to go through what promises to be a total metamorphosis.' However, unlike Richard Lanham in his optimistic The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts, Birkerts is more pessimisitic about the future of reading as seductive technologies transform the reader-writer relationship. Through these essays, the author chronicles his passionate relationship with books and ventures into considerable depth on the demise of textual traditions and values. While acknowledging that millions of readers still read books, he is particularly concerned about the loss of readers of true literature. A good complementary volume to Lanham; recommended."—Library Journal