The book form

The book as a form of discourse is inscribed in materialities. Among them, the small format, for example the in-18 Great Jesus At XIXe century. It is this wealth, beyond paper, that digitalization threatens today.

One of the most unfortunate effects of digital reproduction of books, whether old or contemporary, is the erasure of their format. In the electronic world, the only format is that of the screen on which the reader can freely enlarge or reduce the size of the texts.

The miniaturization of electronic objects, which replaces the mobile phone with the computer, even portable, further increases the distance between the formats of books as they were published and read by the readers of their printed texts and their perception and appropriation on a luminous surface which ignores this materiality. The ancient link is thus forgotten, even prior to the invention of Gutenberg, which associated the hierarchy of formats with the different genres of discourse and the practices and moments of reading.

The format of the books

On November 22, 1757, from Bath where he was undergoing treatment, Lord Chesterfield sent a letter to his friend, the Bishop of Waterford. The readings, he wrote, helped him cope with his poor health:

Lord Chesterfield by Allan Ramsay

I read with more pleasure than ever; maybe because it’s the only pleasure I have left. My deafness prohibiting me from the company of the living, I resort to the dead, who are the only ones I can listen to; I therefore assigned them hearing hours. Solids folios are the business people with whom I speak during the morning. THE quartos are the more male and easy company with which I sit after lunch, and I spend my evenings with the light and often frivolous chatter of the little ones. octavos And duodecimos. Ultimately, it keeps me from wishing for death, while other thoughts keep me from fearing it.

Thus, while taking up the classic topos of voces paginarumwhich allow us to listen to the dead with our eyes, Lord Chesterfield combines in a more original way the times of the day, the genres of books, serious or frivolous, and their formats, given as their first identity.

By focusing on small formats, books that fit in your pocket, Isabelle Olivero reminds us of the importance of the materiality of texts and the decisive role of the non-verbal elements of books in the process of constructing the meaning of speeches. The format is one of these elements, associated with others: the characters, Gothic, Roman or italic, the layout, more or less covered by white space, the presence or absence of illustrations, the punctuation which controls the reading, or the binding which can bring together several works in the same object.

As Armando Petrucci and Henri-Jean Martin have shown, it is from the appearance of the codex, and not that of the printing press, that these elements construct an order of books whose first characteristic, immediately visible on the shelves of libraries, or on catalogs of publishers, is the distinction between formats, with their two extremes: the large works which can only be read if they are placed on a table or a desk and the small books which can be carried with oneself and held in the hand.

In-12, in-16, in-24

In her book, itself in pocket format, Isabelle Olivero chants with an entirely encyclopedic rudiment and a rare comparative thing, three periods which seem to her to correspond to three essential innovations: the portable editions of the Greek and Latin classics published by Alde Manucius Venise la hinge of the XVe And XVIe shekels; there Carpenter revolution from the 1840s which offers in a new format, the in-18 Great Jesusbooks sold for 3.50 francs and compose a Library with multiple series; finally, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the development of paperbacks and pocket collections.

Isabelle Olivero takes care to register each of these revolutions in a historical framework which is not without precedent. Thus, at the time of the manuscript, the small formats of the Parisian Bibles of XIIIe century or books of hours. Thus, at XIXe century, the publication of small, light, inexpensive books, already announced as pocket library.

It also acutely underlines the historical variations in the definition of little format. In the old typographical regime, between XVe And XVIIIe century, the small formats are the lower lin-octavo formats: in-12, in-16, in-24. At XIXe century, the mechanization of papermaking, which lowered costs and increased production capacities, increased the size of printing sheets. This is how the in-18 Jesus de Charpentier has the dimensions of an old octavo and that the true small formats are now in-24 or in-32. Today, paperback books are generally 18 centimeters high (this is the case with Isabelle Olivero's book), the size of Gervais Charpentier's books.

The first pocket books, 1953

Throughout the chapters, Isabelle Olivero corrects several ideas that are too quickly received. The first is that which closely links small formats and popular readings. After the ancient classics published by Alde Manutius, there are many small books which allow elites new possibilities for reading scholarly works or letters. The same goes for pose. When the barber and the heart, who redact the library of Don Quixote, meet the little booksthe heart declares: These should not be books of chivalry, but rather of poetry.

It is the same with the theater plays of the XVIIe century, published, both by Parisian publishers and in the Dutch forgeries of Elzevier, in the octavo format. Or even for the works of Baltasar Gracin, distanced by the laconicism of their style from readers vulgarall the first editions of which were published in the in-16 format (and even in-24 for the Orculo manual and art of prudence).

Conversely, the most popular texts, due to their massive distribution or the social identity of the greatest number of their readers, are not necessarily books or printed matter that can be put in your pocket. Many of them circulated in quarto format. Thus, in Spain, pliegos sueltos which ensured the presence of the poetry of romances or, in France, the adaptations of chivalry novels entered into the repertoire of colportage or 98% of mazarinades. We can add that XIXe century, publications in deliveries or newspaper serials were portable and popular forms of print without being, however, small format books.

Digital technology is not welcoming to books

From there, the attention shifts by Isabelle Olivero from the sole format of books to the constitution of collections, intended for all classes of readers or more particularly the education of the people. Their origin lies in the Libraries (novels or ladies) of XVIIIe century and their immense success, in France and in all European countries, followed or preceded Charpentier's initiative.

The format, more or less small, accommodates books which offer compact texts, often bring together a work in a single volume, and constitute collections offering the most canonical writings or the most necessary for the instruction of all. These collections, which are so many selected libraries, differ from complete works and specialized series. They introduce strong innovations in publishing. They strengthen the role of publishers, generalize the office system and discounts for unsold copies and introduce percentage remuneration for authors. More fundamentally, they aim to resolve the tension between the proliferation of books, made evident by crises of overproduction, and the utopian ideal of the single book, the book of books.

In her last two chapters, Isabelle Olivero attempts a diagnosis of the present. It is characterized, in publishing, by the triumph of the pocket book or, more generally, of all low-cost collections, and, in written culture, by the daily conquests of digital practices. Producing or receiving brief texts, detaching fragments from textual wholes, these practices move away from the book and from all discourses constructed from an architecture in which each element has a place and a role.

The essential issue is therefore no longer just that, well-worn, of death of the book as a material object whose content could meet new modalities of registration and transmission: the e-books, online editions, digital collections. It is that of the perpetuation of the book as a particular form of discourse, which was able, as this work shows, to be inscribed in diverse and successive materials, the small format book being one of them. The digital world, through the practices it allows or imposes, is not welcoming to the book, in both senses, material and textual, of the term. This is one of the worrying observations suggested by this very good book, dense, fluid and informed.