Portable Magic: A History of Books and Their Readers
A history of one of humankind’s most resilient and influential technologies over the past millennium—the book. Revelatory and entertaining in equal measure, Portable Magic will charm and challenge literature lovers of all kinds as it illuminates the transformative power and eternal appeal of the written word.
Stephen King once said that books are “a uniquely portable magic.” Here, Emma Smith takes readers on a literary adventure that spans centuries and circles the globe to uncover the reasons behind our obsession with this captivating object.
From disrupting the Western myth that the Gutenberg Press was the original printing project, to the decorative gift books that radicalized women to join the anti-slavery movement, to paperbacks being weaponized during World War II, to a book made entirely of plastic-wrapped slices of American cheese, Portable Magic explores how, when, and why books became so iconic. It’s not just the content within a book that compels; it’s the physical material itself, what Smith calls “bookhood”: the smell, the feel of the pages, the margins to scribble in, the illustrations on the jacket, its solid heft. Every book is designed to influence our reading experience—to enchant, enrage, delight, and disturb us—and our longstanding love affair with books in turn has had direct, momentous consequences across time.
About the Author
EMMA SMITH is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford University, and the author of This Is Shakespeare (2020). She lives in Oxford, England.