Turning Over an Old Leaf

So here I am, back in the office, and bored again.

I have spent the morning trawling the Arts Full Text database; from the ‘Notebooks’ category, to ‘Reading and Books’, and thence to things about binding, I’ve been remembering that thrill of quiet, sparse, precise, personal times in libraries, with books and a notebook. Nicholson Baker wrote about transcribing to commonplaces (which is pretty much what I see this blog to be). Then an essay about reading aloud caught my attention, and I wondered where my final, aborted, art school woodwork project would be now, had I ever finished it. It was going to be a lectern, not large, but heavy, and built with old wood and all treenailed joints (even the dovetails were pinned through; I can’t remember why). A thing to own only if one never wished to move house again, I think.

In reading these writings about reading, and they were mostly a half dozen pages or so, I missed a thing from books: pages. I like turning pages, strange as that may sound: each page turned is a milestone (or, really, more like a yard-stone, if such a thing has ever existed; maybe in Huysmans’ journeys to the grog cabinet in Là-Bas they did), and forms some sort of ‘meta-rest’ — a pause in reading never intended by the author, but imposed by the printer; a gap resolved only from the book-ness of the text. On a screen there is no such thing — try reading a Project Gutenberg text on-screen, and you quickly get disoriented by the endless down, the ‘single page’ that has turned a book, a codex, into a perverse scroll that is longer than any that ever kept at Alexandria. I’ve heard that some of these so-called eBooks solve this problem by necessitating some sort of swiping gesture along the device’s margin to turn the page, but I doubt it’s the same. I love turning to a long-shut page in an old book and feeling the binding adjust and fold and present the folio, the sewing showing sometimes, and the hollow back opening smoothly. Running one’s finger down the fold, to confirm that this is where I’m reading, that though there may be much past and much to come, this page is now. (Of course, these remarks rarely hold true for a perfect-bound book: but maybe some people get satisfaction from breaking the backs of these wretched modern bricks, or in not being able to open them properly. I don’t know.)

Now it’s lunchtime, and I’m going to walk through the rain to find some lunch somewhere. With luck, a place in which reading will fit. I’m reading a novel by William Gibson at the moment, so maybe the rotten ‘mall’ will do, as at least there I’ll be out of the rain (and out of the office; I’m not particularly enamored with this place at the moment, and am thinking of quitting).


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