Book Reviews | June 2023 | Alex Johnson

Book Parts Now Out in Paperback


If you missed the publication in hardback of Book Parts, a series of 22 short essays by major figures in the book world, back in 2019 then its appearance now in paperback is the perfect moment to remedy this loss.

Edited by Dennis Duncan (author most recently of Index: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age) and Adam Smyth (Professor of English Literature and the History of the Book at Balliol College, Oxford), Book Parts examines the various key components of books in short chapters, starting with Introductions, Dust Jackets, and Frontispieces, and moving through Chapter Heads, Epigraphs, and Running Titles, ending up with Indexes, Errata Lists, and Blurbs. These are lined up in the order in which they normally appear which is a nice touch, although the reader can easily dip in and out at will without loss.

Each writer - including Sidney E. Berger on Endleaves - takes a broad look at the history and relevance of their chosen 'part' right up to the digital ebooks of the present day, with Helen Smith's particularly excellent and witty look at Acknowledgments and Dedications rightly including the Twitter hashtag #thanksfortyping. It's pretty encyclopaedic (though there is nothing on marginalia and specifically no room for elements of book production such as typefaces, bindings, or paper), the only major aspect not covered being the main text of a book itself.

Although the authors are all leading international experts, the writing is accessible and often very funny as well as enlightening - while longstanding bibliophiles, book collectors, and book history academics will appreciate it, so will newcomers to the subjects.