Bookmark for “A Brief History of Reading” (and a Revisit of “The Future of Reading?”)

Aristotle, a 4th-century-BCE philosopher, port...
Aristotle, a 4th-century-BCE philosopher, portrayed in 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle as a 15th-century-CE scholar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LiveInk® cleverly demonstrates how the display of writing has developed by presenting the following quotation from Aristotle’s On Interpretation in the forms in which it would have appeared in the different stages of the A Brief History of Reading.

“Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, and written words are the symbols of spoken words.” — Aristotle, On Interpretation

For example,

In 2000 BC, the Phoenicians developed the first methods to represent spoken language – an alphabet consisting entirely of consonants:

SPKNWRDSRTHSYMBL
SFMNTLXPRNCNDWRT
TNWRDSRTHSYMBLSF
SPKNWRDS.

LiveInk® must hope for a place on the timeline for its re-formatting process (Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF), which breaks up blocks of traditionally laid out text (flush left, ragged right or justified) and presents them in a more readable form, reminiscent of 20th century free verse.  The claim of increased readability is based on eye movement studies by Randall Walker, Charles Vogel, Stan Walker, Phil Schloss, Charles R. Fletcher, Youngmin Park and Mark Warschauer.

Last September, BOB picked up an article by Michael Kozlowski on the Kindle feature of synching an ebook with its counterpart audiobook and explored the question, “What can the physiology, neuropsychology and sociology of reading tell us about ourselves?”  The research behind LiveInk® is worth bookmarking for the reading list (see below) concluding BOB’s  September 2012 entry if only to experience the “melon twisting” that comes from trying to accommodate these disparate yet related perspectives on the act of reading.

Reading List

Vinall-Cox, JoanMoving From Paper to E-Book Reading.  eLearn Magazine. March 2012.  Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Rollins, H.A. Jr., Hendricks, R.  Processing of words presented simultaneously to eye and ear.  J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 1980 Feb; 6(1): 99-109. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

British Association for the Advancement of Science (2007, September 11). Reading Process Is Surprisingly Different Than Previously Thought, Technology Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Association for Psychological Science (2010, August 30).  Eye movements reveal readers’ wandering minds.  ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Florida State University (2012, February 14). How Do Children Learn to Read Silently?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

LiveInk® (four papers:  jaltcalljournal, National Educational Computing Conference, Reading Online and IEEE International Professional Computing Conference)

A bookmark for Norma Levarie, The Art & History of Books (New York, 1968)

Norma Levarie (1920-1999) was a graphic designer and author of  children’s books, one a winner of a New York Herald Tribune award — Little People in a Big Country.   But, in addition to her design work for the National Audubon Society, The Jewish Museum, The University of Chicago Press, Oxford University Press, Random House and Harry N. Abrams, this Virginian’s most important gift to those interested in the evolution of the book and book arts is her volume The Art & History of the Book (New York: James H. Heineman, 1968).

The quality of her research and writing measures up to the best.  If only Heineman had been able to afford color reproductions, her ability to handle illustrations and her keen eye for selection of examples would have placed this book in good company with works such as Michael Olmert’s The Smithsonian Book of Books (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992).  Still, Levarie’s book merits a bookmark for its overarching message, which is cleverly embodied in the book’s organization.

Facing the stark image of the Prism of Sennacherib on the opposite page, these words of Ashburnipal launch the book on the recto page:

Prism of Sennacherib. Assyrian, VII century B.C. Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Height 15 in. Reproduced from Levarie, The Art & History of the Book (New York, 1968).

“. . .  I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the obscure Akkadian writing which is hard to master.

I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions in stone from the time before the flood. . . .”

Continuing chronologically up to the fifteenth century and “block book,” Levarie switches to a geographical approach, starting of course with Germany, ending with England and returning to a timeline overview from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, the last illustrated with pages from Spiral Press’s Ecclesiastes (New York, 1965), drawings by Ben Shahn, engraving by Stefan Martin and calligraphy by David Shoshensky, and  Apollonaire’s Le Bestiare (Paris, 1911).

Guillaume Apollonaire, Le Bestiaire. Paris, 1911. Woodcuts by Dufy. Yale University Library, Graphic Arts Collection. 14 x 10 1/4 in.

This structure neatly builds to these concluding words:

“The homogenizing forces of our time have broken many barriers of national style, and sometimes it is difficult to tell at a glance the origin of a book.   But local differences in production or taste still exist, and where they are manifest they bring the pleasure of variety.  . . .

For the lover of fine books, nothing can replace the bite of type or plate into good paper, the play of well-cut, well-set text against illustration or decoration of deep artistic value.  But an inexpensive edition can carry its own aesthetic validity through imaginative or appropriate design.  These are not matters of concern only for aesthetes; if, in an era of uncertain values, we want to keep alive respect for ideas and knowledge, it is important to give books a form that encourages respect.  The style and production of books, for all the centuries they have been made, still have much to offer the designer and publisher in challenge, the reader in pleasure.” (303-06)

Leaping ahead more than fifty years to the shift from print to digital, we find that many of the observations and message legitimately reassert themselves.   Websites and ebooks do vary in design from region to region, but standardization and, more so, the global character of the Web and the products of the technology industries counter-assert a homogeneity in design.  Sven Birkerts‘ elegies for Gutenberg are echoed across blogs devoted to the continuing pleasures of the printed book.  But likewise Levarie’s stand that these are not merely matters for the elite is echoed across the debate of print vs digital in the popular press and the democratizing blogosphere.

What still must be translated from her message is how to make the leap that, if we respect ideas and knowledge, we must give online books as well as print books a form that encourages respect.