What Is Reading For?

This short book by Robert Bringhurst is the text of a talk he gave in 2010 at a symposium called The Future of Reading.

There is nothing finer than reality, so far as I’m concerned, and yet there seems to be no life unless reality is coupled to imagination.

There’s hard editorial work to do in order to make real reading feasible. Unless that kind of patient, time-consuming editorial work has a future, reading has no future either.

Without this hard editorial work we have little ability to determine which texts have merit. The example he cites is Google touting 82 books from an indigenous American language. The problem is that most if not all of those are low-worth missionary texts. Without doing the editorial work to evaluate and contextualize the books we can’t make sense of what having 82 of them means.

The digital book is a rotation, not a revolution. It is another turn of a wheel that is turning all the time. It’s a newfangled toy and may be some fun, but it is also just the latest stage in that continuing degradation of the outward form of the book. The most perishable, and most visually disappointing, form of text yet invented is text on a screen. It’s the perfect medium for a society that believes, in its heart of hearts, in the basic futility and irrelevance of what it finds to say.

His principles for a “good” digital book:

  • It’s free from the electrical and network grid.
  • It relies on a non-radiant display.
  • It’s high (truly high) resolution.
  • It relies on good, print-quality letterforms.
  • It includes as few bells and whistles as possible.