By outlining and describing the history of the bookroll, which the ancient Greeks and Romans first used and developed, Johnson not only informs the reader of the evolution of the bookroll and all of its separate and distinct components, but he also challenges the reader to examine the cultural significance and implications of the bookroll then and now. Further, Johnson attempts to tie the evolution of the bookroll to the many different forms and ways of reading and interpreting letters, spaces, punctuation marks, words, thoughts, and ideas in the context of reading cultures, which should be examined comprehensively within societies.
One of the most important aspects of Johnson’s argument is his employing of the history of the bookroll. By doing this, he allows the reader to gain a better understanding of ways in which the bookroll functions and works together within cultural, societal, political, economical, historical, etc. systems. Johnson explains, “…because it highlights features that are stable over time and place, and…it helps us focus on behaviors interestingly distinct from contemporary norms…We should now be able to see at least some ways in which the design of the bookroll, the style and types of writing, and ancient reading behaviors work together in a system that is symbiotic and consistent in its own terms…” (115).
Another important aspect of Johnson’s argument is the way in which he focuses on the Roman high empire from the second century A.D. in order to outline and trace how reading systems worked within that particular society. By doing this, Johnson forces the reader to question how reading systems worked within that society and how they work in other societies, past and present alike. These reading systems were fundamental in both the literature realms of society and in the, arguably more important, realms of society, such as economics and politics. Johnson describes, “What one read, how one understood what was read, and how one deployed one’s mastery of language and literature could have immense consequence. At stake were personal relationships, political ties, status within the community, and even concrete gains such as income and wealth” (119).
Additionally, yet another important aspect of the author’s argument is the way that he chooses to highlight the medium as merely one component of a more complicated system. As he does this, the reader is able to realize that although the medium is important, there are other factors that are just as important or even more important that also influence the systems to which reading belongs.
One aspect of the text that wasn’t necessarily confusing, but that was at times distracting was the lengthy and elaborate history of the bookroll. As helpful as it was in the end to be able to question and reflect back upon why Johnson chose to use the history of the bookroll to help the reader understand the how the bookroll and other media can be used to “signify culture in a number of different ways” (107), it was very distracting trying to sift through all of the history at the beginning of the text knowing that this text had to be more than just history.
As Johnson describes the reading systems of the second century (A.D) Roman empire, not much is said about any class other than the elite, upper class. Being primarily informed about how reading functioned within the upper classes forced me to question how reading functioned within the lower classes? Did the lower classes not know how to read? Is that why Johnson didn’t further explore those reading systems? Not knowing much about the lower and middle class reading systems, I just felt like some part of my understanding was missing because I didn’t feel completely informed. Although Johnson mentions, “…the role of literary matters in the appointment of cultural gatekeepers, A typical way in which elite in literate societies distinguish themselves from the masses is by asserting control over literature and language” (118), I just felt confused not knowing more about the masses.
Just as the bookroll complicated the reading systems in economical, political, cultural, and societal ways, how do the increased number of media forms today further complicate the reading systems within our society?