The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Annotating Alexis's Images From "10 Reading Revolutions"

I wrote the text for “10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books,” but’s science and technology editor/good friend of the Snark Alexis Madrigal edited it and added all the hyperlinks and images. The images are really wonderful, so I thought I would add some short annotations/captions/homework assignments for each one here.

  1. Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory builds on the observation that what we call WW1 was the first major war fought where most of the soldiers did a lot of reading. The German empire sent the soldiers off with copies of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Soldier-poets like Wilfred Owen had inexpensive poetry anthologies like the first Oxford Book of English Verse. And the soldiers had lots of access to news, even printing their own newspapers (some official, some samizdat — those were the funny ones). Add the literacy revolution of the late-19th century, and lots of time spent sitting around and waiting for something to happen, and there was more reading in that war than any before it.
  2. These industrial print machines just have a great aesthetic, don’t they? It looks like the machine Chaplin slides through in Modern Times. You could also say he’s becoming a ribbon of film flitting through the projector:

  3. None of my “revolutions” are single moments. In fact, you could say that all of them are all still ongoing. But if you were talking about genuinely revolutionary moments in the history of reading, deciphering the Rosetta Stone would be a big one. And once you cut through the propaganda, even that wasn’t done by one guy on a single date.
  4. If you wanted to, you could describe every revolution in the history of reading as a computing revolution. I love the “earliest true hardware” section of this Wikipedia article: “Devices have been used to aid computation for thousands of years, mostly using one-to-one correspondence with our fingers.” As Matthew Battles would say, we’re all digital natives.
  5. I don’t know how exactly Alexis dug up this picture of glasses designed for reading in bed, but I strongly suspect there isn’t yet an app for that.


Your first bullet there—that WWI was a war of readers—is ringing & resonating in my brain. That’s so amazing. Is there a novel about that? There should be a novel about that.

Tim Carmody says…

Read Fussell. It’s very very readable — thing won the National Book Award, Book Critics’ Circle award, all that jazz — and he rattles off one great reading after another of WW1 novels about that. Also, Gravity’s Rainbow is kind of about that.

The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings is also about that, albeit abstractly. Tolkien was writing the whole time he was in the trenches.

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