"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From Scroll to Codex to Book

Any Eastern Christian bibliophile--or any bibliophile for that matter--should be paying attention to Alan Jacobs. If you go here you can read his latest and completely absorbing essay, "Christianity and the Future of the Book," on the cultural implications of moving from biblical scrolls to the codex to the modern book--and possibly beyond, to e-readers and the like. Christians were the first to adopt the codex for four practical and organizational reasons. He ends by reflecting on what it means when many Christians today encounter Scripture not in books but instead de-contextualized and chopped into bits that are projected on large screens in churches:
the obligation to defend the book remains far greater. It is the book, largely as it emerged from the early Christian Church’s understanding of its own Scriptures, that has enabled much of the best that has been thought and said in the past fifteen hundred years. And its key virtues can be preserved, and perhaps even extended, in forms other than the paper codex.
As you can see he does not go on a rant against electronic publishing, but read the whole thing for yourself in The New Atlantis, which often publishes such long and fascinating essays on a variety of culturally important topics.
Jacobs is the author of such books as The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford UP, 2011, 176pp.) and  A Theology Of Reading: The Hermeneutics Of Love (Westview Press, 2001), 196pp.

About this latter book the publisher tells us
If the whole of the Christian life is to be governed by the “law of love”—the twofold love of God and one’s neighbor—what might it mean to read lovingly? That is the question that drives this unique book. Jacobs pursues this challenging task by alternating largely theoretical, theological chapters—drawing above all on Augustine and Mikhail Bakhtin—with interludes that investigate particular readers (some real, some fictional) in the act of reading. Among the authors considered are Shakespeare, Cervantes, Nabakov, Nicholson Baker, George Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Dickens. The theoretical framework is elaborated in the main chapters, while various counterfeits of or substitutes for genuinely charitable interpretation are considered in the interludes, which progressively close in on that rare creature, the loving reader. Through this doubled method of investigation, Jacobs tries to show how difficult it is to read charitably—even should one wish to, which, of course, few of us do. And precisely because the prospect of reading in such a manner is so offputting, one of the covert goals of the book is to make it seem both more plausible and more attractive.

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