Reading/Making begins by declaring the obvious. There are a lot of words on things (and not just on the pages or the screens where we most expect to find them). If you stop right now and look around you, how many things have words on them? I bet the answer is: a lot. Stone tablets, papyrus scrolls, ink-splattered pages, cherished books, and glitchy monitors remind us that reading and writing always entail encounters with three-dimensional objects, but what about all of those other things with words on them that surround us?
In Reading/Making, I show that words have been leaping off of pages and onto three-dimensional objects since the seventeenth century, when literacy rates started to soar. By the 1700s, readers were thumbing their way through more poems, periodicals, and books than they ever had before—and they were also embroidering verses onto needlework samplers, etching moral bon mots on tea pots, cutting out paper-doll versions of their favorite characters, turning plots into board games, and paying for the pleasures of experiencing bestsellers as extravagant, theatrical performances.
Reading/Making curates representative as well as extraordinary examples of these “literary crafts”: the textiles, household goods, paper-works, toys and games, and popular entertainments that quoted from or referred to the poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that was published in Britain and American between 1650 and 1850.
As a social history of print and media cultures, Reading/Making will interest literary critics and readers specializing in eighteenth-century studies. Reading/Making is also an interdisciplinary study; the writings of art historians and anthropologists inform my interpretations of literary crafts, and I draw extensively on scientific studies of reading in order to examine the specific insights that historical forms of reading-as-making can give us into literacy acquisition. Reading/Making concludes by curating modern-day counterparts to the historical objects that have been the focus of previous chapters. In contemporary art galleries and museums (not to mention on sites like Etsy or Pinterest), literary crafts abound, and the tradition of reading-as-making that they preserve will be critical, I suggest, for the future of literary studies.