Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mind the gap

From Georges Perec, "Reading: A Socio-physiological Sketch," in Thoughts of Sorts, trans. David Bellos:
Hands are now used only for turning pages. The spread of the fully guillotined book has robbed today's reader of two great pleasures - the pleasure of cutting the pages (if I were Laurence Sterne I would now insert an entire chapter in praise of paper-knives, ranging from the humble cardboard cutter given away by booksellers to every purchaser of a book, to bamboo, polished stone, and steel paper-knives, not forgetting the scimitar designs (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), the matador-sword paper-knife (from Spain), the samurai-style cleaver (Japan) or those ghastly things in imitation-style leather sheaths which together with diverse other objects of the same ilk (scissors, pen-holder, pencil-box, universal calendar, memo pad, leather-clad integral desk-blotter, etc.) constitute what is known as a "desk set"); and the even greater pleasure of beginning to read a book with uncut pages. You will recall (for it wasn't that long ago, really) that books were made of signatures folded in such a way that the cuts needed alternated thus: eight pages needing, first, the upper edges cut and then, in two pairs, the side edges. The first eight pages could be read almost entirely without a paper-knife; of the next eight you could obviously read the first and last, and, by lifting them up, the fourth and fifth. But nothing more. The text came with gaps which held surprises and aroused expectations.

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