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The Art of Reading

Writer and art historian Simon Ford on the enduring theme of readers and their books

Simon Ford

Appropriately enough, this text began its life on the day that the BBC announced the nation's favourite book. Over 700,000 votes were cast as part of what the television producers named 'The Big Read'. Of these votes, 174,000 went to the winning book, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The series of programmes was credited with creating a three thousand percent rise in the loan of books from public libraries, and a grateful book industry rejoiced in the sale of three million copies of the short listed books. Reading was, for a couple of months at least, headline news. For an activity so commonplace this must be classed as something of an achievement, but there is one thing that reading will never be and that is something new. In its turn representations of people reading are also as old as writing itself. This small selection of drawings represents just a tiny percentage of the immense library of readers that have been captured by artists, eyes down and engrossed, in the interpretation of signs and symbols.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Reading list

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading, pub. Flamingo, 21/04/1997 www.amazon.co.uk

Steven Roger Fischer, A History of Reading, pub. Reaktion Books, 28/03/2003 www.amazon.co.uk

Plato, (ed. Walter Hamilton), Phaedrus, pub. Penguin Books, 25/10/1973 www.amazon.co.uk

Author's Biography

Simon Ford is a writer. He was previously Special Collections Bibliographer at the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, and received his PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2000 for a dissertation on avant-gardism in Britain, 1969-1981. He is a regular contributor to Mute, Art Monthly and Texte zur Kunst and his books include Wreckers of Civilisation (1999) and Hip Priest: The Story of Mark E. Smith and The Fall (2003). He is the editor of Information Sources in Art, Art History and Design (2001) and contributed the chapter on contemporary art and publishing for The Art of the Book (2001).

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