Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Vertical Book

One of the disconcerting aspects of blogs is that the last page written is always first, the first one last—almost suggesting that we’ve reached the end times (Matthew 20:16). A lifetime of turning pages, cumulating those read on the left, has left me with an instinctive horizontal orientation and, furthermore, left to right. I own a Koran that’s printed right to left, and consulting its index, “in the front” from my perspective, gives me the same strange sense of disorientation that blogs do. If blogs develop themes, as mine sometimes do, you have to dig downward to find the root.

This approach is genuinely new. As I just learned from the University of Michigan’s website titled Papyrus Collection, from whence also the following illustrations, even in the days of scrolls, left to right was common in the classical era in Europe (Graeco-Roman times). The papyrus roll lay on your table, and you scrolled rather than turned its single page, gathering the already-read in your left hand while revealing the new with your right.

A vertical scroll became more fashionable in the Byzantine era (fourth to seventh centuries of our time), after the center of the Roman empire shifted to what we now call Istanbul. But this scroll, while you read it downward, still has the first “page,” as it were, on top, the last at the bottom.

Our habits tug and worry us like our bodies as they age. I wish I could have a blog where the newest entry is the last—and if you want to see the past you have to hit PageUp—and better yet, PageLeft—but we’d have to get new keyboards for that, so what’s the chance of satisfaction? Low to none. Easier to let people form new habits. Old is down and new is up, up, up, and up.


  1. Force people to form new habits more like!

    First I had to get used to e-mail which, as a non-office worker, was not as easy for me as for all you computer bound Americans. Now I realize that the real stuff is going on on blogs. And by the time I log in for my first read, I have to scroll way, way, way down to start at the beginning. But I'm all caught up now.

    But, speaking of things Byzantine, isn't that a word which means complicated and convoluted and just basically unnatural?

  2. Not to mention the fact that in the comments section things are right-side up : if you answer me it will appear BELOW my comment and thus we must scroll down for new comments but up for new posts... And, of course, just to make things still more Byzatine, time is backwards too since I certainly did not post this on the 11th of July at 11:29pm but rather on the 12th at 8:33am. So, for TIME one must scroll West to California time, at least in one's mind but I got used to THAT when using which is California based and can not seem to figure out where a sender is writing from. Oh, the limits of the virtual world!

  3. Neither my Collegiate nor my big Webster's wants to acknowledge the meaning you give to the word Byzantine, although it is as familiar to me as to you. I suspect that that usage really comes from architeture and that it is therefore similar to the way in which people once used gothic to mean ugly...perhaps they still do.

    In this world time is also speeded up. On the Google platform, Blogger, which this is, the software is the oldest and the most venerable--and, of course, hasn't been updated. In the WordPress world, where LaMarotte runs, they let you set your own clock. This comment was actually written at 7:50 am on the 12th of June, my time.

  4. Actually, I looked it up before commenting. In my Webster's of 1975 Byzatine shows up as labyrinthine with an example using the word...the byzantine complexity of the record...