In a recent article in Public Services Quarterly, Lois G. Hendrickson reviews a week she spent "immersed in a course entitled 'Teaching the History of the Book' (370) at Rare Book School. This is a course which investigates "different ways of thinking about, designing, and conducting a course on the history of the book. It is a course, not on the history of books and printing, but on the teaching of that subject" (RBS). The reason it came to my attention was that the students'
initiation into the complex processes of book analysis [began] by examining Harlequin romance novels. As it turns out, romance novels provide a perfect entrée into book history by enabling the class to develop a common vocabulary and acquire the tools to interpret the parts of the whole. We set out to answer the question of how these books, the Harlequins, make their meaning. This is the question we attempt to answer over and over during the week with increasing intensity and depth. Our instructor, Mr. Suarez, leads us in unpacking the social codes and elements of the novels, including the author persona, bindings, paper, price, and typeface. He models approaches to these books, be it reading, reception, or technology, and pairs them with fascinating and relevant stories. Lest you think the Harlequins beneath contemplation, we learned that they are 60% of the book and e-book trade, which led to a fascinating discussion on packaging, the pace of publication, and distribution channels.I wish Michael F. Suarez would write up some of this and submit it to the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.
Hendrickson, Lois G. "Seeing into Books: Lessons from Rare Book School." Public Services Quarterly 8.4 (2012): 369-372.