What’s there not to love about old books? Well, there are a few things. Though many of us love the appearance and smell of them, we usually use our ancient volumes only as decoration rather than reading material. While this may be because of wanting to protect them from danger, it could be because the age of the book makes it difficult to read. Without further ado, here are five features that make reading old books difficult for modern readers.
1. Cramped Title Pages and long titles
Nowadays, we have the title and author on the title page—and sometimes other information as needed. But for the most part, they are sparse and designed for appeal rather than information. Older books were often very different than this. Take the title page of Robinson Crusoe, for example:
The title is over 50 words long and contains a summary of the whole story! Apparently they didn’t care about spoilers in the 18th century. Other old title pages included the modern equivalent of copyright information, too. Yikes—just give me the title and author, please!
2. Strange Letters
In our youngest years, we learn our ABCs, write letters, and form words with them. Imagine how shocking it is when a letter is a totally different shape! Look at this title page. Can you spot the strange letter?
You probably noticed what I’m talking about when you read what looks like “illuftrious Perfons”. But the letter that looks like an f is actually a lowercase s! This form predates the printing press and was used because it was more conducive to handwriting.
3. Nonstandard Spelling
Do you struggle with spelling? I often do. As much as I struggle though, I do like to read (and write) words that are correctly spelled. But early modern English books had far less standardized spelling than modern ones do. Read this page as an example:
The main spelling differences are with three letters: j, u, and v, appearing in Iusuites (Jesuits), absolue, and Qveen. All of these typographical trends were a result of the Latin influence on English spelling. Other difference include additions of e or replacing y with ie. They sure do make it difficult for us now!
4. Difficult Typefaces
Maybe these haven’t gone away entirely, but even those most acquainted with strange modern typefaces may find the famous Gutenberg Bible almost illegible. Can you make out what it says?
OK, I may have tricked you: the text is Latin, not English. Despite the language difference though, the letters are still hardly discernable. Now imagine having some different letters and spellings on top of that!
5. Long Sentences
The bigger the better? Victor Hugo is renowned for his 823-word sentence in Les Misérable, but he is by no means alone in his use of long sentences. Charles Dickins’ iconic opening sentence to A Tale of Two Cities is 118 words long!
Though we may see a few monster sentences every once in a while in modern books, sentences like these are things of the past. And I think for good reason: even the best intentioned author can lose their reader’s attention if they are not too careful!
feature image via saatchi art