|Interesting, but uncomfortable
I've developed an eye problem that makes reading difficult, and it's set me off wondering about the mechanics of handling books. As I labour to make out words which look to me (and me alone) as if they have been produced on a printer running low on ink, I can’t help but admire the generations who slaved over early texts in dimly-lit libraries, devoured Dickens by candlelight, or even coped with early postwar paperbacks in the glow of a 40 watt bulb.
|One way of doing it
Reading on a high-speed train is hard enough, but can you imagine succeeding in an unlit horse-drawn carriage, bumping across ruts in the road? And What must it have been like for eighteenth and nineteenth century ladies, perched on hard settees with closely-printed books?
How did they do it?
Perhaps I should risk a confession here. I have never dared say this before - and for an author it may be a fatal revelation - but what the heck. Here it is:
Though I have always loved stories and research, and adore books and manuscripts as objects, even when my eyes were working properly, I never much liked reading as a physical occupation. For me, it has always been a rather uncomfortable means to an end.
When children tell me they don't like reading, I encourage then to persevere, and wax lyrical about how books will open doors for them (which is true) but secretly I sympathise. I have never cracked how and where to sit. Does anyone else find some books just difficult to hold? No wonder the gentlemen's clubs of yesteryear commissioned all sorts of reading stands to attach to those wonderful winged armchairs. a friend of mine reads in the bath. I'm too shy to ask to see how she does it. my books just get wet.
It's not just the fatal mix of fat books and small hands. These days paper-saving narrow margins and tight gutters can make it a struggle to catch the beginnings and ends of lines. Bindings can be too tight, or too cheap and weak. A couple of months ago I was sent a brand new book by an author I was to interview at a festival. As soon as I opened it, all the pages fell onto the floor. A few days later, I was looking at a 300 year-old text almost as tightly sewn and robust as the day it was bound.
|St Jerome doesn't seem to be having much fun
pictures from Wikimedia Commons