THE JOY OF BOOKS by Eric Burns


Confessions of a Lifelong Reader
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 An autodidact's breezy digest of the historical and personal importance of the book, with few intellectual pretensions and only a couple of political and cultural ones. Burns's career began in television, first as a news reporter, then as a media critic, and finally as a dissenter with his first book, Broadcast Blues (1993). For his defense of the book and the pleasure of reading, Burns artfully employs his genial style, which is as easily read as delivered on TV, despite occasional slips from chattiness into sarcasm. In print, he has the advantage of embellishing his cribs from the Durants' Story of Civilization, Daniel Boorstin's The Americans, and Neil Postman's techno-cultural criticism with amusing anecdotes and remarks from the likes of H.L. Mencken, Goethe, and others. Burns follows up a whirlwind history of writing, printing, and bookmaking (encompassing the library of Alexandria under Ptolemy and monastic scribes of the Middle Ages) with an even broader one of censorship from Protagoras and Milton to Joseph McCarthy and contemporary school boards. In the latter case, the brief accounts of Anthony Comstock and his Society for the Suppression of Vice and the genteel censor Thomas Bowdler are matched with contemporary incidents such as attacks on Huckleberry Finn and Burns's own vivid experience of a small-town book burning, which he filmed for television. These historical and contemporary parallels have more force than the author's second-hand diatribes against slipping educational standards and the epistemological evils of deconstruction. Still, he optimistically if sentimentally frames all this with his and his son's mutual childhood enjoyment of Peter Pan. In this switch in medium from the box to the book, Burns has a more or less effective forum for his pop critiques.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1995
ISBN: 0-87975-004-5
Page count: 172pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1995


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