If readers of the twentieth century feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of writing and information, they can find in Samuel Johnson a sympathetic companion. Johnson's career coincided with the rapid expansion of publishing in England—not only in English, but in Latin and Greek; not only in books, but in reviews, journals, broadsides, pamphlets, and books about books. In 1753 Johnson imagined a time when "writers will, perhaps, be multiplied, till no readers will be found." Three years later, he wrote that England had become "a nation of authors" in which "every man must be content to read his book to himself."
In Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading, Robert DeMaria considers the surprising influence of one of the greatest readers in English literature. Johnson's relationship to books not only reveals much about his life and times, DeMaria contends, but also provides a dramatic counterpoint to modern reading habits. As a superior practitioner of the craft, Johnson provides a compelling model for how to read—indeed, he provides different models for different kinds of reading. DeMaria shows how Johnson recognized early that not all reading was alike—some requiring intense concentration, some suited for cursory glances, some requiring silence, some best appreciated amid the chatter of a coffeehouse. Considering the remarkable range of Johnson's reading, DeMaria discovers in one extraordinary career a synoptic view of the subject of reading.
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