Stories about Books: The Book as Central Artifact in Contemporary Fiction and Non-fiction

By A.J. Grant.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper explores the book as central artifact and, therefore, trope in contemporary fiction and non-fiction. Jews and Christians are appropriately designated “People of the Book” by Muslims in the Quran, but all three major Western religions have at center a book: the Torah (Tanach) for Jews, the Bible for Christians, and the Quran for Muslims. This ability to collect all the inspired stories and reflections of a religion was made possible by the invention of the book. The book as we know it now began as a technological innovation 2200 years ago, displaced the scroll, and has dominated the West’s collective imagination: “This was one of the few times a new user interface was good enough to change the technological metaphor. Bear in mind that the scroll still survives, even to this day, as its own technological metaphor. But the book - the codex - became metaphor unto itself. It well may be the most powerful technological metaphor of them all.” (John H. Lienhard, “The Metaphor of the Book,”

Given this confluence of religion and technology, it is not surprising that a book (not the Bible) appears as a central artifact (and trope) in contemporary works of fiction and non-fiction. From Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which features Aristotle’s Comedy at the center of the action to Geraldine Brooks’ The People of the Book, which traces the history and reclamation of a 16th century Haggadah written during the Convivencia in Spain, contemporary writers highlight the centrality of the book in the West and its multivalent significance to the (post)modern world. In addition to these works, four additional works of fiction and non-fiction that present a book at the center of the story are explored and discussed.

Keywords: Stories about Books, Books about Books, The Book as Metaphor, The Book as Trope

International Journal of the Book, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.91-102. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.256MB).

Dr. A.J. Grant

Head, English Department, School of Communication & Information Systems, Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

A.J. Grant is a Professor of English at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA. He currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in communications, rhetoric, literature and philosophy, and has offered a variety of professional workshops on writing and professional communication in corporate settings. Grant’s research interests include writing in the academic disciplines and professions, literature, the history of communications and popular culture topics. He has published articles on these topics in scholarly journals like the Journal of American Culture and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Grant received his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and English from Northern Illinois University, an MAT from Wheaton Graduate School and a BA in English Literature and Writing from the University of Pittsburgh.


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