On books as objects

A Reading Note

In my childhood, some elderly English ladies with whom my parents kept up relations often gave me books as presents: richly illustrated works for the young, also a small green bible bound in morocco leather. All were in the language of the donors: whether I could read it none of them paused to reflect. The peculiar inaccessibility of the books, with their glaring pictures, titles and vignettes, and their indecipherable text, filled me with the belief that in general objects of this kind were not books at all, but advertisements, perhaps for machines like those my uncle produced in his London factory.

Adorno, Minima Moralia, page 47

Similarly:

In a world where books have long lost all likeness to books, the real book can no longer be one. If the invention of the printing press inaugurated the bourgeois era, the time is at hand for its repeal by the mimeograph, the only fitting, the unobtrusive means of dissemination.

Adorno, Minima Moralia, page 51

One wonders how Adorno would have responded to ebooks. The medium has the potential to be so unobtrusive that the book itself nearly vanishes, or else so gaudy it makes an illuminated text appear ascetic in comparison.

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