Birkerts, Sven. (1994). The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. (EN-0274)
New York: Fawcett Columbine. ISBN: 0-449-91009-1 (paperback)

Editorial reviews from

Editorial Reviews
What hath the inexpensive personal computer, the portable cassette player, and the CD-ROM wrought? Are books as we know them dead? And does--or should--it matter if they are? Birkerts, a renowned critic, examines the practice of reading with an eye to what the future will bring.

The New Yorker
Birkerts on reading fiction is like
M.F.K. Fisher on eating or Norman MacLean on fly casting. He makes you want to go do it.

From Booklist
Self-proclaimed bibliophile and literary critic, Birkerts writes a passionate defense of reading in today's electronic environment. By delving into his own literary history, he charts his obsession with the written word. Birkerts, the child of Latvian parents--a stoic father and a mother who loved to read to him--started his love affair young. Yet these essays are not about him so much as about the power and importance of the written word. The act of reading, especially in this age of information highways, talking books, CD-ROMs, and 500 television channels, is to him an "argument between technology and [the] soul." From the individual engaged in the act of writing to the individual who will read those words, a revolution is in full swing. This is no revelation, yet Birkerts has slowed the pace of the discussion down, the clarity of his prose clearing the table for further discussion. So he says, "Words read from a screen or written onto a screen--words which appear and disappear, even if they can be retrieved and fixed into place with a keystroke--have a different status and affect us differently from words held immobile on the accessible space of a page." The Gutenberg Elegies is both a celebration and a warning, a very important collection of essays for everyone who loves books, the reading as well as the writing of them. The stakes of his arguments could very well be our souls. Rau{}l Nino --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews
An inveterate bookworm bemoans the end of a literary era. Birkerts (American Energies: Essays on Fiction, 1992, etc.) continues his fire-and-brimstone preachings about the electronic age's negative impact on society in this book of essays about the fate of reading. Gone, he says, are the well-read laypeople of yore and the witty, erudite critic who had their ear. Instead, we have technopunks who can retrieve libraries of information with a keystroke and enjoy MTV but who cannot appreciate Henry James. Despite Birkerts's compelling language, his argument is flimsy and unfocused. He bases his treatise on a vague sense that ``our culture feels impoverished'' as a result of the decline of the book. And though he admits that this is subjective and tries to back it up with hard proof, it is here that his failure is most striking. Birkerts assumes his premise--that we must preserve reading and writing in their current forms- -and therefore never proves it. He argues that in the electronic age, what one critic called extensive reading has replaced intensive reading, and that casual writing has replaced permanent writing, because the act of writing is now easier and reading material more universally accessible. The same could be said of every innovation since the advent of literacy--the ballpoint, the typewriter, the printing press that Birkerts is elegizing. He fails to explain why the electronic revolution threatens ``our culture'' any more than these previous technological advances. Coincidentally, Birkerts feels that the ideal technological balance was reached just around the time he was growing up, and it's been downhill ever since. The reader can't help wondering if he would have taken up his quill to defend the 15th-century status quo, just as he now turns to his broken-down Olivetti to defend ours. He correctly pegs himself as a curmudgeon. A simplistic and unconvincing jeremiad. -- Copyright 1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the
Hardcover edition.

Midwest Book Review
We are living in a state of intellectual emergency where new technologies threaten the printed word: that's the message of Birckets' strong title, which considers the unique aspects of print and its lasting influence on mankind. Birkerts makes a case for how print and circuitry are fundamentally different - and the long-term impact this will have on human values. --This text refers to the
Hardcover edition.

The New York Times Book Review
Warmly elegiac...A candid and engaging account sketches his own almost obsessive trajectory through avid childhood reading...This profoundly reflexive process is skillfully described.

Book Description
"[A] THOUGHTFUL AND HEARTFELT BOOK...A literary cri de coeur--a lament for literature and everything implicit in it."
--The Washington Post
In our zeal to embrace the wonders of the electronic age, are we sacrificing our literary culture? Renowned critic Sven Birkerts believes the answer is an alarming yes. In The Gutenberg Elegies, he explores the impact of technology on the experience of reading. Drawing on his own passionate, lifelong love of books, Birkerts examines how literature intimately shapes and nourishes the inner life. What does it mean to "hear" a book on audiotape, decipher its words on a screen, or interact with it on CD-ROM? Are books as we know them dead?
At once a celebration of the complex pleasures of reading and a boldly original challenge to the new information technologies, The Gutenberg Elegies is an essential volume for anyone who cares about the past and future of books.
"[A] wise and humane book....He is telling us, in short, nothing less than what reading means and why it matters."
--The Boston Sunday Globe
"Warmly elegiac...A candid and engaging autobiographical account sketches his own almost obsessive trajectory through avid childhood reading....This profoundly reflexive process is skillfully described."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Provocative...Compelling...Powerfully conveys why reading matters, why it is both a delight and a necessity."
--The Harvard Review

A critically acclaimed lament for the fate of reading in the electronic age shows how information technology is harming the inner lives of humans. Reprint. SLJ.