A post from Shady Characters

Announcing The Book: a new book and a new website

Now that Shady Characters has been published, I can reveal what I’ve been working on for the past few months. The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time will be published in late 2015 by W. W. Norton, and I’m delighted to say that the esteemed Brendan Curry will assume editing duties once again.

What is The Book about? A few months ago, as we wrestled with the proposal for the new book, Laurie Abkemeier sent me this quotation from the New York Times, and it sums up precisely what I want to address:

When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book—its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed.

Books, for the most part, become famous — or infamous — for their content. Whether banned and burned or feted and cherished, we remember those books that speak most eloquently or most vehemently to us, that stir up our emotions or impart new knowledge.

But what about the fabric of the book itself? The paper, ink, thread, glue, and board from which the average book is made tell just as rich a story as the words on its pages. Ancient Egyptian papyrus, famed as a material for both bookrolls and boat-building (the Nile’s crocodiles did not like the taste), gave way to parchment sheets that early Christians bound into compact, concealable books, all the better to hide them from prying Roman eyes. William Blake’s unique copperplate etching method, revealed to him in a vision of his dead brother, was just one more step in the journey from illuminated manuscripts to the peerless engravings in John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

From papyrus scrolls to dime novels, and on the eve of what many have proclaimed as the end of the printed book as we know it, The Book will explore the long and surprising history of this most important of information technologies.


To complement The Book, I’ve also been working on a new website. Rest assured that ShadyCharacters.co.uk will be carrying on as usual; KeithHouston.co.uk, the new site, will be to The Book as ShadyCharacters.co.uk is to Shady Characters, and I hope that readers of both sites will feel equally at home in either.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions!

2 comments on “Announcing The Book: a new book and a new website

  1. Comment posted by Bill M on

    I look forward to it.

    I really like Verlyn Klinkenborg’s statement about having, holding, reading, and so forth – a real book.

    I like books and I have many. I have e-books too. E-books are handy to read, but do not have the character and rememberance factor of holding and reading a real printed book.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Bill — glad to hear it! I’m still in the very early stages of writing The Book, but the subject matter is very rich indeed. I hope I can do it justice!

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