This introductory chapter provides an overview of nineteenth-century understandings of, and feelings toward, the uses of printed matter. That books function both as trophies and as tools, that their use engages bodies as well as minds, and that printed matter connects readers not just with authors but with their owners and handlers—these facts troubled a genre busy puzzling over the proper relation of thoughts to things, in an age where more volumes entered into circulation than ever before. The chapter then explores the often contentious relation among three operations: reading (doing something with the words), handling (doing something with the object), and circulating (doing something to, or with, other persons by means of the book—whether cementing or severing relationships, whether by giving and receiving books or by withholding and rejecting them).
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