A couple of quotes I came across recently that I thought might be interesting:
John Gray writing about Alberto Manguel in the Guardian: “A connoisseur of fantastic fiction, Manguel has shown how reading can enable us to elude consensual reality, itself always partly fictitious. Books may not be reality, but they give us access to realities other than the one in which we find ourselves confined.” Interesting choice of words: “elude”, “confined”. And an interesting perspective on the fantastic from outwith the genre.
In an 1838 survey of the 38 libraries then existing in three Westminster parishes, the survey found, among several other categories:
“27 Works of Good Character, Dr Johnson, Goldsmith, &c”
“76 volumes of Romances, Castle of Otranto, &c”
“1,008 volumes of Novels of the lowest character, being chiefly imitations of Fashionable Novels, containing no good, although probably nothing decidedly bad.”
“10 volumes of Books decidedly bad”
Quoted in Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders.
Also in the Flanders, she talks about how, during the 18th century, books became more expensive even though most consumer goods were coming down in price. And she notes:
It is not surprising, therefore, that book sales were small. Some members of the upper classes thought that books should remain expensive, not because they wanted to keep these luxury goods for themselves, but to prevent the lower classes from becoming infected with dangerous ideas. William Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) was every bit as radical as Thomas Paine’s incendiary works, but Paine was prosecuted for his book and Godwin was not. In the 1790s Paine’s The Rights of Man was sold for 6d., while Political Justice cost £1 16s. on first publication, and then appeared in a cheaper 16s edition.
(To give you an idea of the price equivalent, a teacher would have earned on average £12 at the time.)