Out of Touch

No other passage has more profoundly captured the meaning of the book than this one. Not just reading but reading books was aligned in Augustine with the act of personal conversion. Augustine was writing at the end of the fourth century, when the codex had largely superseded the scroll as the most prevalent form of reading material. We know Augustine was reading a book from the way he randomly accesses a page and uses his finger to mark his place. The conversion at the heart of The Confessions was an affirmation of the new technology of the book within the lives of individuals, indeed, as the technology that helped turn readers into individuals. Turning the page, not turning the handle of the scroll, was the new technical prelude to undergoing a major turn in one’s own life. In aligning the practice of book reading with that of personal conversion, Augustine established a paradigm of reading that would far exceed its theological framework, one that would go on to become a foundation of Western humanistic learning for the next 1,500 years. It was above all else the graspability of the book, its being “at hand,” that allowed it to play such a pivotal role in shaping one’s life. “Take it and read, take it and read” (tolle lege, tolle lege), repeats the divine refrain. The book’s graspability, in a material as well as a spiritual sense, is what endowed it with such immense power to radically alter our lives. In taking hold of the book, according to Augustine, we are taken hold of by books.

Andrew Piper, "Out of Touch: E-reading Isn't Reading," - http://slate.me/XOtX6t