Portable Magic

Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers

Literature: History & Criticism
Hardback Published on: 28/04/2022
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Most of what we say about books is really about the words inside them: the rosy nostalgic glow for childhood reading, the lifetime companionship of a much-loved novel. But books are things as well as words, objects in our lives as well as worlds in our heads. And just as we crack their spines, loosen their leaves and write in their margins, so they disrupt and disorder us in turn. All books are, as Stephen King put it, 'a uniquely portable magic'. Here, Emma Smith shows us why.

Portable Magic unfurls an exciting and iconoclastic new story of the book in human hands, exploring when, why and how it acquired its particular hold over us. Gathering together a millennium's worth of pivotal encounters with volumes big and small, Smith reveals that, as much as their contents, it is books' physical form - their 'bookhood' - that lends them their distinctive and sometimes dangerous magic. From the Diamond Sutra to Jilly Cooper's Riders, to a book made of wrapped slices of cheese, this composite artisanal object has, for centuries, embodied and extended relationships between readers, nations, ideologies and cultures, in significant and unpredictable ways.

Exploring the unexpected and unseen consequences of our love affair with books, Portable Magic hails the rise of the mass-market paperback, and dismantles the myth that print began with Gutenberg; it reveals how our reading habits have been shaped by American soldiers, and proposes new definitions of a 'classic'-and even of the book itself. Ultimately, it illuminates the ways in which our relationship with the written word is more reciprocal - and more turbulent - than we tend to imagine.

  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • ISBN: 9780241427262
  • Number of pages: 352
  • Weight: 468g
  • Dimensions: 222 x 144 x 33 mm

Customer Reviews

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Portable Magic
Charismatically charged with infinite insight and delves into the vast relationships that we all develop with the world of reading. Informatively written a... READ MORE
Ingress Chamberlain
Portable Magic
Mesmerising and informative
Portable Magic took my attention with the beautiful name and cover. Reading this book was a real treat. I loved how the author has used immense knowledge a... READ MORE
Sadia Jawaid
Portable Magic
Biography of books
This title lives up to its billing as a biography of books. It starts off with an introductory section which provides some context as to why books were see... READ MORE
Sam Todd
Portable Magic
I loved this
I absolutely loved this book. It was well researched, well written, thought provoking and a real page turner. Each chapter is a standalone theme about som... READ MORE
Charlotte Booth
Portable Magic
Portable Magic
In Portable Magic, Emma Smith presents an in-depth history of the book as a physical object, one that has the potential to enrapture, horrify and everythin... READ MORE
Erin Britton
Portable Magic
I loved this
I absolutely loved this book. It was well researched, well written, thought provoking and a real page turner. Each chapter is a standalone theme about so... READ MORE
Charlotte Booth
Portable Magic
I liked the sound of this book, the history of books isn't something I know much about. However, upon reading it, it's just so heavy going that I couldn't ... READ MORE
Natalie Mayer
Portable Magic
Magical history of books
This cannot fail to delight any bookworm or even historian. I thoroughly enjoyed this, it's just a veritable cornucopia of book facts and little nuggets of... READ MORE
Fiona koncsol
Portable Magic
Intelligent and scholarly
A fascinating insight into the history of books. From the start of their creation to the current day, Portable Magic explores and considers the evolving hi... READ MORE
Joanne Schofield
Portable Magic
Jam-packed with fascinating snippets of info but more academic than mainstream reading.
Although I primarily read fiction I doubt there are many book lovers who could resist a book about all things bookish and more specifically the history of ... READ MORE
Rachel Hall
Portable Magic
Join the Bookhood!
This is a book about books, lots of research has been thoroughly carried out to give fascinating aspects of the whole ramification of having a book - or be... READ MORE
Ronald Smith
Portable Magic
I wanted illustrations!
As an ardent bibliophile I knew from the moment I saw the cover and the title that I would want to read this. I’ve always been seduced by the magic of the ... READ MORE
Portable Magic
A pleasant surprise
Books and reading are close to my heart, but I must admit that I do not read enough non fiction, so I was happy to receive a copy of this book from Readers... READ MORE
Astrid Dutton
Portable Magic
Magic is right!
What an absolute joy of a book - a book about books. A scholarly account of books of the past and what they mean to inidividuals who engage with them throu... READ MORE
Gillian Kelly
Portable Magic
A cornucopia of 'portable magic' for all bibliophiles!
As I’d received a free copy of ‘Portable Magic’ in exchange for an honest review, I felt I should read it chapter by chapter, start to finish. However, whi... READ MORE
Linda Hepworth
Portable Magic
Absolutely loved it couldn't put it down
I absolutely adored this although at times the author and my principles didn't exactly coincide. The main point being all the discussion about book burning... READ MORE
Ria Koncsol
Portable Magic
Wonderful, full of book lore
Where do I start? This was at times such a quirky, fun, irreverent look at the book world, along the way we take in books made of cheese, famous book trial... READ MORE
Peta Hooper
Portable Magic
Excellent read!
This is an excellent read about books, their origin, influence and survival. Chapters with catchy titles take us through the journey of bound books throug... READ MORE
asha krishna
Portable Magic
Interesting, but very academic
Having read an early preview to this book I was looking forward to reading it. I loved the cover and it did a good job of drawing me in, books to me are po... READ MORE
Louise Hjelmbjerg
Portable Magic
For Book lovers everywhere
I’m not usually a reader of non-fiction books but I could not resist a book whose title was taken from a quote from Stephen King, my favourite author “boo... READ MORE
The Jane Hall
Portable Magic
One to dip in and out of
My 3 stars are a bit mean because the book is beautifully written and the author is undeniably knowledgeable and passionate about her subject. I, however, ... READ MORE
Lisa Mattin
Portable Magic
Great for bibliophiles
A interesting book based on the origins, history and our relationship with books. Whilst I did find the book interesting and found the author's writing to ... READ MORE
Erin Pritchard
Portable Magic
Great for bibliophiles to dip in and out of
This is a very well researched book that explores, over 16 chapters, how readers read, books and their relationships with those who turn the pages. The inf... READ MORE
Leigh Souter