An eighth-century book in its original binding, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 185.
The best books are infinite, reproducing themselves for as long as there are people to read. There are two types of infinity when it comes to the written word. One is related to a book’s ability to be duplicated, by hand or machine, into new exemplars, like organisms breeding new individuals. This way, the book’s survival is ensured. The more copies there are, the farther the book is from extinction.
The other type of infinity has to do with reader engagement. While some books survive through duplication, others endure through their capacity to morph into new texts, new books, new media. In ancient times, Homer’s survival seemed beyond question. Yet, in the West, the Iliad and the Odyssey ceased to be copied and read, at least in the version the ancients had read them. The Homeric world…
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