The Times Literary Supplement
15 February 2013
Review by David Finkelstein
Archie L. Dick's work focuses on what he calls 'zones of influence', reading spaces that become places of empowerment and resistance. He offers valuable insights into how minority groups in South Africa dealt with attempts to control where, what and how they read. Drawing on little-known archival sources, he begins by exploring the world of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Cape Colony reading communities, offering evidence of book ownership among indigenous and slave groups that contradicts the view that they were mostly illiterate and uneducated.
Review by Mary Nassimbeni, Emeritus Associate Professor in the Library and Information Studies Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa
South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science, Vol 79, No. 2
This book has a broad historical remit, ranging from the early colonial days of the Cape (1658) to the last decade of the 20th century. Its ambitious scope covers eight chapters, starting with early readers in the Cape and taking the chronology to 1992 (Chapter 7), with the final chapter exploring the theme of censorship. It concludes by “revealing the hidden books and hidden readers”, a deft touch which resonates neatly with the Introduction in which the author proposes the significance of the common reader in South Africa. Although some of the themes covered in the chapters have been published as papers in scholarly journals, the reader is not aware of any disjuncture in the flow or logic of the text as the author has carefully constructed a framing device which he presents in his Introduction, viz. the common reader.
The Hidden History of South Africa's Book and Reading Cultures shows how the common practice of reading can illuminate the social and political history of a culture. This ground-breaking study reveals resistance strategies in the reading and writing practices of South Africans; strategies that have been hidden until now for political reasons relating to the country's liberation struggles.