I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Refined Reader (19) The Codex

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!
People today debate on the merits of physical books vs. ebooks - a debate that is not so much about whether books will last (as in the actual art of writing stories - that will definitely last) but how do we cope with a new format?  And what are we losing in the transition?  This post isn't about that particular change however, but the transition people had to make many centuries ago when the most common book format was a scroll and bound pages called a codex began to gain popularity.

In the most important aspects, codices are very like the bound books we use today.  Scrolls were long parchments or papyrus with the text written down the front which could then be rolled up for storage.  Around the first century A.D., a codex started to come into use and featured a set of pages bound together on one end with a sturdy cover and spine easy for labeling.  The only real difference between the idea of a codex and books as we know them today, is that a codex was usually handwritten.  And sometimes a codex could be a folded series of pages like in the image above which is an ancient Mayan codex.  These were huge advances over the scroll format.  Codices were easier to carry, more compact, could fit more text because you could write on the front and back of a page, and the most important advancement - you could read text non-linearly.  You could skip and skim parts of the codex very easily and compare sections, while with a scroll it was necessary to keep what you weren't reading rolled up.

It would be interesting to think that there were some Ancient Times hold-outs who loved that they were able to roll up their books and couldn't accept that codices were an improvement on the reading system.  There's some speculation with historians that Christians helped make codices popular because they used them to write out the Bible (which was much more practical due to the Bible's length).  It is also speculated that Christians wanted to use the codex because scrolls were widely used by the Jews.  Indeed Jewish people sometimes still have Torah scrolls for formal ceremonial use.

By the sixth century, scrolls were completely obsolete, although the scroll was used longer in the Far East than in the West.  So if we look at the example of history, we still have some time before physical books are phased out! (But I don't want them to be!  I still love my physical books!)

Do you think physical books will become obsolete a century from now?  Or perhaps more of a collector's item for the avid reader?

The New York Times (much more informative on this topic)
The Book and Paper Group

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  1. A century from now? Yikes! Hardcover books will probably be phased out by then. Sad as it sounds. But 100 years from now, a new form of reading might be making the rounds as well!

  2. I hope not. I love my Kindle BUT physical books are... special, and nothing could replace them, ever, imo.

  3. Ooh great thought that maybe a new form of reading will be around in the future! That would be interesting. I just hope it's not like words scrolling in front of your eyes - it seems like reading that way would be so tedious!

  4. I know I will always keep physical books - there really is nothing like flipping through pages! I am glad that I embrace both formats though, because there are so many strengths and weaknesses to both, and it's good to be able to have the advantages of both.

  5. A good question about whether or not physical books will be gone in a century. I would like to think that maybe they will only because I think the earth's resources won't be that great and people will want to save paper. I think paper books might be a luxury.

  6. That is a sad thought, but all too true. We do need to conserve resources. Maybe in that case, our books right now will become such rarities- they might be worth a lot in a century! :)

  7. LOL, it is pretty weird to think of carrying scrolls around! It just wouldn't be very convenient. I hope books will always be around too (at least I'm sure it will be in my lifetime I guess) They are wonderful to just carry around with you.

  8. I've always thought scrolls were so interesting looking, but never would I want to use them. I mean, I've tried to tote posters around rolled up and they always get squished. I might cry if I squished my books! I certainly hope physical books will never go away, because reading on a screen just isn't the same. I love the convenience, but I'll never stop buying real books. :)