The printed word

Title page of Robert Greene's Pandosto (public domain: https://archive.org/details/dorastusfawnia00thomuoft
Title page of Robert Greene’s Pandosto (public domain: https://archive.org/details/dorastusfawnia00thomuoft

The title page of Robert Greene’s play Pandosto — published in 1588 and providing a model for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1611?) — has some wonderful phrases which, incidentally, have a universal application to much fiction. This ‘pleasant Historie’ is claimed to show that, although Truth may be concealed ‘by the meanes of sinister Fortune’

yet by Time in spight of fortune it is most manifestly revealed.

In these post-truth times it may be heartening to believe that truth will eventually out, though that’s little consolation when we’re in the middle of so much that causes us grave consternation. Greene’s expressions of optimism are underlined by the first half of a statement he gives and which are attributed to the astronomer Johannes Kepler: Temporis filia veritas; cui me obstetricari non pudet. (‘Truth is the daughter of time, and I feel no shame in being her midwife.’)

A little further on we’re assured that this Historie is ‘pleasant for age to avoyde drowsie thoughtes’ — that’s us older readers — as well as ‘profitable for youth to eschue other wanton pastimes’ — though what these wanton pastimes might be that younger readers should eschew we can only guess. The final promise is that it shall bring ‘to both a desired content’, thereby turning tragic thoughts to happy ones.

Yet another quote is appended, this time from Ars Poetica by the Roman writer Horace. The full sentence (Greene includes only the first part) is Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, lectorem delectando pariterque monendo. One translation gives this as, ‘He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time.’

Delight and instruction, pleasure and profit: these are the twin virtues of reading, are they not, especially in the sum of their parts. Instruction and profit may to the epicure seem like dirty words, sullied as they often are by puritan ethics, but reading fiction can be a relatively painless way of learning and of gaining insights, all to our intellectual advantage and increase of wisdom. I need not add that reading is also a consolation devoutly to be wished.


I turned to the internet for the source of the Kepler and Horace quotes, in addition to the image of Greene’s title. I mention this because I don’t want my concluding comments to suggest that I disparage electronic forms of providing reading material: after all, I’m editing this on my mobile phone as well as a laptop, and you doubtless will also be reading this on one screen or another. No, what I want to do is affirm that I personally prefer a printed format for my extended reading material, and that I will continue to read both fiction and non-fiction on organic matter. I am no Luddite but when what appears online is frequently ephemeral, so often of dubious veracity and seldom reliably sourced I find books have a comforting solidity and, moreover, a sensuousness that electronic devices lack.

Many of you may have seen buttons similar to that shown at the bottom of this post, all reiterating a pledge to read the printed word, a pledge outlined in wording at the head of the page at http://readtheprintedword.org and which I also include here:

We support the printed word in all its forms: newspapers, magazines, and of course books. We think reading on computers or phones or whatever is fine, but it cannot replace the experience of reading words printed on paper. We pledge to continue reading the printed word in the digital era and beyond.

Click on the button if you want to add a button of your choice from the link, and from there simply copy the code below your chosen button to add it to your page.

Read the Printed Word!

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20 thoughts on “The printed word

  1. Well, I voted for the printed word because that is my ideal preference but I have good reason to also like the digital word. It is not justly eyesight that is at fault here though I cannot argue that it is. It an issue but printers and designers are also to blame.

    My choice of book to read is partly dependent on whether I can read it easily or not. A book with its lines of text too close together or a font used that is too fine or dense is a problem without a very good light source. With Kindle (on my phone) I don’t have that issue. And do they me started about magazines! The designers insist on using as small a point as possible and I top of that they do not consider what sort of background the text is against. Aargh! I could go on and on.

    I much prefer the printed word for many reasons and not just to be contrary, one of those is convenience. However, I have read two books on my phone recently because it was easier and a few years ago I read War and Peace on it because there was no way on earth I could read the printed copy I had.

    Printers have to get it right just as the digital world has to.

    1. As somebody who relies on glasses I do understand your point about readability, Alastair. One marketing manager (https://www.quora.com/How-many-people-in-the-UK-wear-glasses) recently stated that “74% of people in the UK either wear corrective eyewear or have had laser eye surgery to help them see better,” adding that 69% of people in the UK wear glasses, with 13% wearing contact lenses.

      More stats quoted include the figure of 72% of women in the UK wearing glasses, but only 66% of men. “Younger people are much more likely to wear contact lenses than older people. Between 18% and 21% of 16 to 49 year olds wear contact lenses compared to between 2% and 9% of people over 50. There has been a rise in the number of people wearing glasses some or all of the time (up from 62% in 2011 to 69% now).”

      This largely points up that the one-size-fits-all approach of conventional reading matter is unable to match the options available on digital platforms, and I note that friends and acquaintances my age are just as likely to swear by their Kindle or other e-reader as they are where books are concerned. Interestingly, most if not all libraries in my experience have a large print section but I’ve not seen any in bookshops (though that’s not to say they don’t exist in the larger branches). Nevertheless, large print books — specialist publishers seem to have an impressive range of fiction — suffer from sheer weight and bulk, and are unable to match the convenience of e-readers when handling or when travelling.

      It’s a bit of a gabby response I’m afraid, but I suppose I’m just trying to say I agree with your caveats!

      1. In my experience the range of books available in large print is quite narrow. Anyway, I’m not quite at that stage yet and I hope things will improve with a second cataract op (coming up soon I hope). Then I’ll be able to get new glasses – hurray 😄

        1. If the large print range is quite narrow then I shall have to hope I’m never going to be at the stage of needing them! Perhaps audiobooks will have to be the route if I get to that state.

          Fingers crossed for your op!

  2. Pingback: The Printed Word – Earth Balm Music

  3. inkbiotic

    I can see the logic of Kindle, but I like the chunky reassurance of books, they feel something like treasure. 🙂

    (PS Speaking of battles with technology, I had a dispute with my phone, after it decided to delete a comment of yours on my blog, sorry for that. It’s back now though.)

    1. That chunky reassurance you mention, Petra, is part of the sensuousness I value, though that may just be down to the Aspie part of me! When you compare books to treasure I think you’ve characterise them just right — there’s a discreteness about them as items and a bling-like aspect when I see them on a shelf that a packet of bytes listed on a screen can’t match.

      Glad you managed to retrieve my two ha’p’orth of opinion on your blog, glitches on WordPress seem mercifully few and far between. 🙂

  4. I’m finding that I’m reading more and more digital books these days, mainly because it’s more convenient when travelling and because it allows me to access books I might otherwise not have been able to read. For example, I’m currently reading a book by Margery Sharp which was reissued in ebook form last year although the physical version is still out of print.

    I still much prefer the printed word, though, and can’t imagine that I would ever want to stop reading printed books!

    1. It’s difficult when books are out of print and generally unavailable except in a digital format, I agree. I suppose if I was really desperate I’d fork out for a used copy from an online source, but they aren’t always available, or at a ridiculous price because of their scarcity. (I lent a non-fiction study, Fairytale in the Ancient World, to some acquaintance or other but I’ve no idea who; when I looked online a year or so ago secondhand paperbacks of it were selling at around £30 or more, a figure I really baulked at paying.)

      I can then see the virtue of a digital edition. For myself, though, I’ve really tried reading on a Kindle and regret to say I’ve never completed a single book — I really do find it impossible, and have resorted to physical books every time.

  5. I find I read differently in ebook and paper-and-ink. Ebooks are great for travel – you can load up dozens of books and it’s all carryable; they’re cheap, so a good way to read lighter things; but I still prefer an old-fashioned book for anything I really want to think about. And I love my bookshelves. All that is probably changing for the younger generation, for whom the screen is second nature – that’s fine as long as they read!

    1. Yes, Gert, howsoever reading is done you have to hope the next generation is doing it! I’m encouraged by the number of blogs I’ve come across dedicated to the joys of books (physical or digital), by the resurgence in book-buying and by news of any spike in sales when a book is made into a film or TV/radio series.

      Your point that you prefer a physical book “for anything I really want to think about” is noteworthy. I’m trying to make each book I read count, whether or not is considered light or heavy, low-, middle- or highbrow. While I keep the books I rate and recycle the ones that I won’t reread or refer back to, I’ll still go for paper-and-ink every time.

  6. “…I find books have a comforting solidity and, moreover, a sensuousness that electronic devices lack.”

    As I was reading this post and especially this quote I thought of used bookstores for some reason. They are one of my favorite ways to spend time. I seek out new ones and make special day trips and seek them out wherever I travel. Though I may find similar offerings in literature and history sections from store to store, there are always the regional offerings that make that particular store unique. Even in a country where English is not the language and the books on the shelves I cannot read, the experience is the same. The clerks, the patrons, the visitors all have this thing in common: we have come hunting for treasure; the touch and smell of it, the conversation and the sharing of it, which cannot be done online. And in this format, experience the “sensuousness that electronic devices lack.”

    And I say, “Amen” to that!

    1. Yes, Laurie, secondhand bookshops have a vibe all their own: apart from taste they assault all your senses — in a nice way, naturally! — and I find that there’s every chance of euphoria when faced with so many potential treasures! I can’t summon the same enthusiasm browsing virtual bookshelves. 🙂

  7. Lynn Love

    Printed word for me. Though innevitably I read a lot of flash online, it’s not my preferred choice and that’s not just for fiction – I subscribed to an online only magazine and have found I hardly ever read it, largely because reading articles on a screen just isn’t comfortable for me. Maybe one day I’ll have an e-reader and will swap over to electronic reading, but no time soon I think

    1. Reading extended pieces on a screen is not easy for me — it’s fine for most blog posts but I lose concentration more quickly than with a book. As for my Kindle the sameness of bland page after bland page is tiring, and I find — found — that the bar showing percentage read more fascinating than the text itself …

      1. Haha! I can imagine the stats being a distraction. I have nothing against e-readers per se, but I really don’t want another gadget to charge alongside phones and toothbrushes and remote controlled tanks (not mine!) and rechargeable batteries for everything else. Too much. 🙂

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