On spectacles…

February 8, 2015

I have been thinking lately about the fact that I would not be able to read or write at all without my glasses… I have needed reading glasses since I was about fifteen or so, and have gradually become more and more dependent on them. I’ve always been ridiculously long-sighted, and this is still the case although I don’t think it’s as sharp as it once was. But the shorter range vision has definitely degenerated with age.

For about fifteen years now, I’ve given in and worn glasses all the time, bifocals so that the distance vision can be more or less unchanged, but the reading segment set to my eyes. And over the years I came to realise that I could read less and less without the glasses – I used to be able to squint, or juggle with the distance and make things out, but now print remains an indecipherable blur without the specs… and I’ve never wanted to even contemplate contact lenses.

Why does all this bother me? Because, I realise, that in the past, that would have been the end of reading, unless I were wealthy enough to have a servant to read aloud to me, and that would not be the same. I think about William of Baskerville, the detective monk in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, with his primitive glasses, a pair of hand-ground lenses set in a forked frame, and how these were regarded almost as witchcraft by people at the time, and also how completely lost he was when it was realised how crucial these were to him, and so they were stolen. And, of course, in the middle ages, you couldn’t just go out and buy another pair. Then, as now, you needed an expert craftsman, and they were very thin on the ground.

When I was teaching, one of my creative writing units involved imagining and discussing the relative usefulness and significance of the five senses to us, and deciding which one we would give up if we had to lose one; for me it was always a toss-up between sight (losing reading) and hearing (losing the ability to enjoy music); now it would be hearing I gave up, without a doubt; I just cannot imagine not being able to read. I am very glad we now have the technology which allows me to overlay maps with a magnifying sheet to see the small details, and the ability to adjust the fonts and their size on my e-reader. So hopefully I’m good to read for a long while yet…

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