Tuesday, May 8, 2007


I am listening to 'War and Peace' Book 1 at the moment. I was surprised that the book was originally divided into fifteen books. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that it was originally published in four volumes. This got me thinking about how sometimes the ghost of old technology can linger, and sometimes it does not.
Take a computer keyboard: the Qwerty layout was designed to prevent typewriter punches from sticking together, something that troubles few people these days, but the layout has survived. A music album downloaded from iTunes is still limited by the fact that an 'album' (spinning at 33 and a third revolutions) had two sides of about forty-five minutes each. Most typefaces still bear the trace of a monk's quill, matching their variations of thickness of line.
Books sometimes lose useful things over time, however. Dickens published almost all of his works in serial form, over many months. In 'David Copperfield' a character appears early on, who so closely resembled a real person (the author drew from life, it seems) that she sued. The character disappeared, only to pop up again, near the end, with a far more moral and decent outlook on life: Dicken's settled the suit, and her character still had time to be reformed.
What I am getting at is: How much more accessible Dickens would be to most people, if you got a few dozen pages to read at a time, instead of a great square block. And its far less intimidating still, when you see the original editions, complete with gaudy advertising for hair ointment.
So - I would take a deep breath before attempting 'War and Peace', but one fifteenth of it is far easier to contemplate. Something Tolstoy probably knew, but subsequent publishers have forgotten.

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