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Reading Matters


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About the Author

Margaret Willes, the former Publisher for the National Trust, has written and illustrated numerous books. She lives in London.


"'How do books furnish rooms - and minds? How have they been produced, sold, acquired, and read since William Caxton? These questions, always intriguing, are illuminated in this colourful bibliophilic excursion.' Jonathan Rose 'a wide-ranging history of readers and reading... a book rich in anecdote.' Christina Hardyment, Oxford Today 'Every now and again, an enchanting and delightful book appears which mixes real scholarship with eminently readable prose. Margaret Willes's Reading Matters is one such work... Books about books can be tricky affairs but this one is captivating; it is at once both instructive and entertaining. Anyone who loves books and their history will love Reading Matters.' Peter H. Reid, Library and Information History"

Book collectors are an eccentric but persistent lot, as Willes shows in this history of the buying and selling of books. With an emphasis on Great Britain (one chapter is devoted to Thomas Jefferson), Willes, former publisher of the National Trust, tackles her subject with considerable learning and with a gusto atypical of a scholarly volume. Of especial interest are insights on Samuel Pepys's diary entries on books acquired; the first memoir of an English bookseller in 1705, The Life and Errors of John Dunton; the significance of the spread of coffee houses in Britain during the 18th century (not unlike the "Starbucks effect" on the Internet generation); the 16th-century origins of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the paperback and bookstore-chain revolutions of the 20th century. The role of women as collectors and disseminators, from Bess of Hardwick in the 16th century to Oprah Winfrey, is notable. There's a wealth of information here, though some chapters cohere more successfully than others, and a somewhat breathless final chapter surprisingly omits Amazon and e-books as they relate to collecting. 90 illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Relying on primary sources such as correspondence, invoices, and diaries to profile the book-buying practices of prominent individuals, Willes depicts the transformation of the book in England from luxury item to commodity. Nine detailed chapters introduce readers equally to reading tastes, family travails, and the developing publishing industry. Willes, former publisher for the National Trust, moves chronologically from Bess of Hardwick (b. 1527) to political and literary leaders Denis and Edna Healey (born 1917 and 1918, respectively), granting one American, Thomas Jefferson, a chapter among the dozen English individuals presented. Unlike other profile collections, such as Pre-Nineteenth-Century British Book Collectors and Bibliographers, Willes's book occasionally departs from highlighting individuals: Chapter 6 discusses distribution of fiction in the 1700s, and Chapter 8 describes the trend toward greater literacy in the late 1800s. Addressing readers familiar with English culture, Willes does not always explain references to historical events or aspects of English units of currency. Reproductions of artwork and chapter notes enhance this thoroughly researched, interdisciplinary work. Recommended for academic libraries.-Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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