Friday, November 6, 2009

Regulating page size: A History of Reading pt. 2

"In France, in 1527, Francois I decreed standard paper sizes throughout his kingdom; anyone breaking the rule was thrown in prison."

And I thought transit fines were stupid. I almost turned this into a post on silly or outrageous laws in history or even still on the books, but I'm sure that's been done to death.

What is interesting about laws such as the one above is the desire to control that which can't be controlled. I paid $40,000 for the following piece of insight, so please pay attention: the sanctioning of an activity does not necessarily mean that the state then controls said activity. In fact, it may be the exact opposite. Laws against illegal immigration don't stop it, and may only serve to indicate just how big the problem is. Continual passing of new legislation addressing the problem only reinforces (figuratively speaking, that is) the sad state of affairs a country (read: the US) is in regarding illegal immigration.

So, what was Francois thinking? Why did he feel the need to regulate the size of paper? Not the ownership or trade (though he may have tried that too), but the size. To control the trade? The publishing industry, which was taking off at the time? The latter, I assume. Regulate and tax.

Was he successful? Alberto Manguel doesn't say, nor does his note explain anything. The comment is made in the midst of an exposition on the development of books from painstakingly produced works of art to mass-produced flimsy pulp editions. Manguel touches on so many aspects of reading, and at times it's merely interesting. I've been a little disappointed in the last few chapters of A History of Reading. Were the 20 pages on reading in bed really necessary?

Right now (in my life) he's exploring metaphors for reading, and it is far more interesting than knowing that Romans read scrolls while relaxing on pseudo-beds. Nature is a book, Walt Whitman, and all that. I always find Walt Whitman far more interesting in books other than his. I fell in love with his poetry while reading quotes in a long piece in a National Geographic, but then couldn't bother to read Leaves of Grass after buying it. Reading bits in this Manguel book has me remembering why I love his poetry but I probably won't go searching for my copy of Leaves of Grass anytime soon.

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