"I'm just going to write because I can't help it."- Charlotte Brontë

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Easy Reader

I'm getting towards the end of Nicholas A. Basbanes' A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World, which had elicited many oohs and aahs and I-didn't-know-thats from me along the way, as well as reminded me of many other wondrous bookish facts that might have eventually faded from my memory.

 One such welcome shake up of my synapses was once more coming across the amazing reading wheel designed by the Italian military engineer Captain Agostino Ramelli in 1588, which I first read about in Alberto Manguel's History of Reading. This reading wheel (along with the 'mobile library' carried around by camels) struck me as a perfect reminder of how the same urges and needs, dreams and laziness have driven people throughout history. Each age is only hampered by the level of technology available to them.

The very useful  "rotary reading desk" was designed to allow a reader to browse through many volumes  and consult many texts without having to move (always a desirous goal for humans, apparently). Much like a Ferris wheel, the wooden cylinder rotated a number of lecterns. Upon each of these shelves, the reader could leave a book open at an interesting point, and, when needed, could refer back to that text simply by turning the wheel using an easily reached pedal. The required book would be presented to the reader again without the necessity of bookmarks or scavenging through messy piles to recover the desired information. Some consider this system to be a prototype for hypertext.

In short, as Ramelli himself wrote in a caption that could have been written by a modern PR department, the reading wheel was a beautiful and ingenious machine, which is very useful and convenient to every person who takes pleasure in study, especially those who are suffering from indisposition or are subject to gout: for with this sort of machine a man can see and read a great quantity of books, without moving from his place: besides which, it has this fine convenience, which is, of occupying little space in the place it is set, as any person of understanding can appreciate from the drawing. 

Many books. Little space. Convenient. Much information at you fingertips, or rather, toetips. These are all still powerful selling points. Unfortunately, Ramelli's vision did not catch on in his or any other time, and his book wheel never became a must-have, iconic, household item.

Me, I'm wondering whether my woodwork-loving brother could knock one up for me. There's a certain corner in my lounge room that would be just right...

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