American Sociological Association

The Life Cycle of a Cultural Object

The study of books, as cultural objects and media of communication, has long lagged in sociology. Consistent with popular prognostications about the demise of print, books have been treated as the stodgy relics of eras past, gradually being replaced by electronic media and unable to tell us much about contemporary processes of cultural production, reproduction, and change. To be sure, book reading has declined in the United States over the last forty years, as measured by both the proportion of people who read at least one book a year and the proportion of the population that reads many books a year (Weissmann 2014). But book reading—and, more to the point, print books—have not disappeared in the ways that pundits have been forecasting for decades now. Confounding expectations, sales of electronic books have been dropping since their peak in 2014, while print book sales have risen. A turn-around in what had been a dwindling number of bookstores and the continuing interest in book-centered publications such as Contemporary Sociology are additional indications that books continue to have social relevance even as the conditions of their production and dissemination have changed significantly. Indeed, it is precisely the persistence of print in the face of widespread technological adulation that makes books especially interesting to study. In _Under the Cover: The Creation, Production, and Reception of a Novel_, Clayton Childress does much to help us understand the changed landscape of book production and reading in the United States.


Laura J. Miller





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