“The Form of the Book”

Jantch"Two constants reign over the proportions of a well made book: the hand and
the eye. A healthy eye is always about two spans away from the book page, and
all people hold a book in the same manner.

    The format of a book is determined by its purpose. It
relates to the average size and the hands of an adult. Children’s books should
not be produced in folio size because for a child this format is not handy. A
high degree or at least a sufficient degree of handiness has to be expected: a
book the size of a table is an absurdity, books the size of postage stamps are
trivialities. Likewise, books that are very heavy are not welcome; older people
may not be able to move them around without help. Giants should have books and
newspapers that are larger; many of our books would be too large for
    There are two major categories of books: those we
place on a table for serious study, and those we read while leaning back in a
chair, in an easy chair, or while travelling by train. The books we study should
rest at a slant in front of us. Few, however, will go to such length. To bend
over a book is just as unhealthy as the usual writing position enforced by a
flat table. The scribe of the middle ages used a desk; we hardly dare call it
that any more because the slope was so steep (up to 65°). The parchment was held
in place by a string across it and could be pushed upward little by little. The
active line, always horizontal was the height-of-eye, and the scribe sat
perfectly upright. Even at the turn of the century, clergymen and government
officials used to do their writing standing up behind a small desk: a healthy
and reasonable position for writing and reading that has, alas, become

Consistent Correlation Between Book Page and Type Area
by Jan Tschichold;
selection from "The Form of the Book", essays by Jan Tschichold pub. by Lund
Humphries 1991


[via Mike Shea]

5 thoughts on ““The Form of the Book”

  1. I really liked the look of this desktop angled writing desk at Levengers:


    it has a soft leather writing surface that a lot of people really like. It doesn’t have room to hold pens, paper, and ink, but often the ones that do don’t fit exactly what you want them to fit. For example, my desk won’t hold an upright bottle of Noodler’s Ink and it doesn’t have a vertical pen holder to hold fountain pens upright.

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