Kirschenbaum, Valerie. Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Tradition and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. The Global Renaissance Society, 2004. ISBN 978-0974575032 416 pp. $
When I was in seventh grade, I deliberately recopied all of my science notes in multi-colored magic markers, and put illustrations in the margins of my notebook to enhance my understanding of key concepts. As a result, I took AP science classes in high school and majored in science in college (at least, until I nearly flunked the math requirement!).
Teacher Kirshenbaum makes a valiant attempt to effort to shift a 500 year-old paradigm of black printing on white paper by making a valid argument for printing in varied colors and fonts to entice and engage new readers, harkening in the age of the designer writer. On the heels of the latest reading survey and MCAS results and the universal widespread appeal of Internet, video games and TV that compete for the interest of students, Kirshenbaum offers a new teaching concept that may aid understanding and memory of key literary works and concepts.
Covering the history and technique of color and font in world literatures, Goodbye Gutenberg encompasses the ancient Egypt, Mayan and Arabic cultures, and scholarly chapters on color and brain, color in advertising, and visual theories. Occasionally too redundant, too passionate and too personal for an academic work, the author still makes a good case.
The results from using colored text in class were a selling point for me as were the quotes from authors of the 18th century lamenting their inability to produce their book as imagine also insinuates this is an idea whose time as come. And books such as Eliza T. Dresang’s Radical Change and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics also indicate a shift is coming. Kischenbaum is ahead of her time.
Sadly, the book makes no effort to dispel critics–for example, books in black and white leave much more up to the imagination and interpretation of the reader–do we really want font and color to “tell” the reader what to think/feel? I wouldn’t want to encourage presentation over content for authors or students, but just a glance at how well the illustrated Da Vinci Code is doing indicates we are already shifting in this direction. Thanks Ms. Kirshenbaum for providing a provocative book!