|University Press Group Ltd|
the guardian Fri 12 June 2009
That "late" might sound a bit ominous, but we still are in an age of print, a claim borne out by Striphas's indefatigable rummagings around in oft-neglected aspects of contemporary book culture. He moves smartly from the depression-era promotion of home bookshelves in America to modern visions of ebooks, or from the invention of the ISBN number to Amazon's frighteningly efficient systems for getting more labour out of their workers. He contextualises, too, the "big-box" booksellers such as Barnes & Noble (inventor of the "book-a-teria" in the 1940s): as Striphas digs behind the hand-wringing headlines, it is not so clear that they inevitably put independent booksellers out of business; and they do also revitalise local economies, such as that of former tobacco town Durham, North Carolina.
The author is fascinated by the mechanics of how books get into readers' hands, to the extent that he probably wouldn't take umbrage at being called a distribution nerd, but his enthusiasm is charming. One is pleased to see an early design for a barcode in the form of a bull's-eye, to learn that books are their own separate "country" in the international product system, or to know that a book-industry PR man in 1931 tried to popularise the term "book sneak" for persons with the outrageous habit of borrowing books from their friends instead of buying them. We also learn of Harry Potter's various bootleg alter egos, among them Russia's Tanya Grotter and Belarus's Porri Gatter. See what they did there?