Back to the Book
BYU recently hosted Harvard Library’s director, Robert Darnton, author of The Case for Books (PublicAffairs, 2009). This senior scholar both reaffirms the traditional codex format for knowledge while simultaneously promoting the evolution of the book. It is at times of change that history can be most instructive. Enter Ann M. Blair’s Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (Yale, 2010), which returns us to the dawn of printing to see how society came to cope with a new media that both inspired and distressed the Renaissance. As old and new media converge and compete, some humanities faculty have gathered to discuss Jussi Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology? (Polity, 2012), which examines the past and present of knowledge formats within humanistic inquiry.
—Gideon Burton, Assistant Professor of English
A Novel Story
It might take 20 pages; it might take 50; for some, it might even take 90. But sooner or later every reader of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas will pause to ask the question that lies at the heart of the book: “What on earth is this?” Is it science fiction? Historical fiction? Mystery? Is it even a novel? Mitchell’s book presents six tales, each nested within a larger narrative frame that doesn’t become fully apparent until the end. This makes the novel perplexing, certainly, but only in the sense of a good crossword puzzle. Cloud Atlas offers the pleasure of complex characters and tight plotting, but it also asks readers to take a step back and ask themselves what, exactly, a novel is and—more intriguingly—what a novel might do that it hasn’t done before.