New Books Network

What is a book? The answer, at first glance, may seem apparent: printed material consisting of a certain amount of pages. However, when a...

What is a book? The answer, at first glance, may seem apparent: printed material consisting of a certain amount of pages. However, when a printed item goes under the scrutiny of readers, writers, editors, scholars, etc., the discussion gets complicated. The matter is that, when read, discussed, or analyzed, a book is situated in a specific environment that creates additional layers for consideration; furthermore, a printed item itself shapes the environment, revealing and producing further developments and proliferations. In From the Edge: Chicana/Chicano Border Literature and the Politics of Print (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Allison E. Fagan invites her readers to explore not only a magic world of the literature that arises out of collaboration of national, ethnic, political, social, literary borders, but also multilayered networks produced by books, which infiltrate readers’, writers’, editors’, publishers’, and translators’ communication.

As the title prompts, From the Edge discusses border literature; however, Fagan makes a step further and includes in her analysis books which do not fall under the category of conventional border literature. Through this gesture, From the Edge broadens the area of inquiry and brings a wider scope of questions for the discussion: what is border literature and what borders do we (or should we) consider? The borders Fagan discusses and negotiates are connected with books as printed items. Outlining a theoretical framework which to some extent relies on the postmodern principles, Fagan seems to initiate a conversation about books as in-flux items: when printed and circulated among the participants of readership (understood in its broadest sense), books not only deliver different stories about writing, reading, and publishing, but also shape current discourses strengthening some aspects and weakening others.

From the Edge shifts conventional margins to centers. This research offers a detailed discussion of paratextual elements: glossaries, typography, editorial paratexts, readers notes. In “My Book Has Been the Light of Day,” Fagan brings attention to recovery projects: books that were re-discovered and re-introduced to readers. While the stories about books that were once considered lost are intriguing and captivating, an academic inquiry brings forth a wide range of discussions: How are books re-discovered? How is their readership established? What do recovered books communicate about the past and present reading environments? What is accomplished through recovery projects? In her research, Fagan initiates, among others, these questions and invites readers, writers, editors, critics, scholars, translators to shift the boundaries of the existing conversations about print cultures and communication, literary traditions and language, ethnicity and nationality, self and identity.

Allison E. Fagan is an assistant professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.