The best books that tell us why we read and write

Beth Luey Author Of Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge
By Beth Luey

Who am I?

As an avid reader, I'm curious about where books come from and what they do. How does a story get to be a book? How does someone become an author? What is happening to us as we read? I worked in publishing, and eventually, I started teaching other people how to become editors and publishers. As a faculty member, I had time to study and write about book history. I joined the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing when it was formed and became its president. The conferences helped me to learn about the history of books throughout the world and from pre-print times to the present.


I wrote...

Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge

By Beth Luey,

Book cover of Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge

What is my book about?

Even in an age of Google and Wikipedia, we continue to rely on books written by historians, scientists, economists, and other researchers to learn more about important subjects. My book looks at serious nonfiction—its authors, publishers, and readers—in the United States since World War II, the moment when the GI Bill opened college to thousands, and when paperbacks became widely available. I used the books themselves, publishers’ archives, authors’ correspondence, and surveys to learn why and how scholars and others write serious books for serious readers, and what those readers expect from the books they choose.

The books I picked & why

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A History of the Book in America: The Enduring Book : Print Culture in Postwar America: 5

By David Paul Nord,

Book cover of A History of the Book in America: The Enduring Book : Print Culture in Postwar America: 5

Why this book?

I always like to start learning about a subject with an overview, and this book brings together experts on topics ranging from technology to censorship, marketing, copyright, and book clubs in the period starting with World War II. I turn to this volume, again and again, to refresh my knowledge and enjoy excellent writing by the top scholars in book history. Earlier volumes in the series cover the topic from colonial times.


What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The History and Future of Reading

By Leah Price,

Book cover of What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The History and Future of Reading

Why this book?

As a voracious reader, I’ve often wondered about why exactly reading is so pleasurable—so essential—and whether others feel the same way about books as I do. Leah Price writes about books and reading clearly and entertainingly, busting myths about a “golden age” of books as well as the much-feared “death of the book.” I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed every minute.


Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies

By Elizabeth McHenry,

Book cover of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies

Why this book?

One of the important themes that emerges from Black history is the importance of literacy in gaining freedom and seeking respect and equality. Elizabeth McHenry shows how African Americans used not just individual literacy but book clubs and social clubs organized around reading to achieve their goals. I loved reading about this quiet, behind-the-scenes element of the fight for participation in American civic culture


The Making of Middlebrow Culture

By Joan Shelley Rubin,

Book cover of The Making of Middlebrow Culture

Why this book?

I’ve always been convinced that—regardless of educational level—people want to learn, to understand a wide range of subjects, and to join the conversation about literature and the arts. Joan Shelley Rubin looks at the people and institutions created to guide those aspiring to expand their minds in the mid-twentieth century: the Book-of-the-Month Club, “Great Books” series, radio book programs, and literary magazines. In the process, she takes on the issue of high-brow versus low-brow and her own subject: what comes in between.


Stolen Words - The Classic Book on Plagiarism

By Thomas Mallon,

Book cover of Stolen Words - The Classic Book on Plagiarism

Why this book?

As a writer and teacher, I’ve always classified plagiarism as a high crime and misdemeanor. It’s the academic equivalent of treason. Thomas Mallon covers well-known and unknown instances, word thieves punished and not. The book is highly entertaining but deadly serious about the harm done by plagiarists and by those who do not take their crimes seriously.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the sociology of literature, African American authors, and African Americans?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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