Good Made Better

The Readwell: A Classically Simple Book Stand

The Readwell: A Classically Simple Book Stand

Chalk it up to my aging eyesight but I’m a book stand kind of guy. I fully realize that book stands are often sought out for holding up a textbook or other reference material next to a computer, or even a cookbook in the kitchen, and these are great uses of book stands that I wholeheartedly condone. For my own use, I’m closing in on two decades since I was last required to use a textbook against my will, and while I do like a book stand in the kitchen, my book holding is more appreciated during my leisure reading when my hands are preoccupied. Preoccupied with feeding myself that is, as I routinely enjoy a good book over a good morsel.


The History and Origin of Book Stands

Like so many seemingly ordinary objects in our daily lives, book stands have a storied past. At least I would imagine they do, and a good researcher and storyteller would likely regale you with a scintillating tale with all the juicy details. I, however, am not that guy. I actually know next to nothing about book stands through history.  

A rare image of an early book stand in use

What I can tell you about is the history of the Readwell, our book stand that is sort of an incidental product in our lineup. You see, the Readwell is essentially the Reader’s Kit that is a feature (a very popular one, I might add) of our Writewell portable writing desk. The Reader’s Kit was a feature I designed to accommodate users of our Penwell products that told me they used the Penwell for transcribing from a book into a notebook. As a portable desk it seemed logical to try and incorporate a book holder into the Writewell. 

Curiously Heavy Book Weight foreground, Readwell book stand background

To do so I had to work within the bounds of the Writewell itself, and being a classy looking tool it was imperative to keep it as elegant looking as possible. The Writewell has a robust base of solid walnut, and this robustness gave me the real estate to make the Reader’s Kit an adjustable book holder to accommodate anything from a thin paperback up to a hefty textbook. The basis of the kit is a brass book rest, very simple in its design, that slides in and out of the base of the Writewell. This is how adjustment is made for the different sized books. 

Affixed to the Writewell is a transparent acrylic page holder. This is essentially the ‘thumb’ of the system. If you think of holding a book open in one hand, you generally have three or four fingers holding the cover at the spine (brass rest) and the front is pinched with the thumb and possibly the pinky (acrylic page holder). As the brass rest is slid inward or outward, the ‘pinch’ on the book is altered and your book is held fully open and made easy to read.


From Writewell to Readwell

While the Reader’s Kit works great on the Writewell, the Writewell itself isn’t necessarily conducive to sitting on a desk. The Readwell is our solution for a book holder with a tidy footprint allowing it to be used in cases where the Writewell is a bit cumbersome. The function of the Readwell is exactly the same and even the components are identical, so if you have a Reader’s Kit already the Readwell can be purchased as a base only and the Reader’s Kit can be added to it. And, whereas the Writewell provides plenty of ballast to balance out a large tome, the base of the Readwell is long (deep) enough to provide stability even when a cereal box sized reference work needs to be propped up. 

The Writewell in the wild with the Reader's Kit book holder deployed for action


The Best Book Holder. Period.

I neglected to mention one reason I love a book stand proper versus a book weight, and that’s the reading angle it provides me. It’s rather obvious, really. I’m typing this on a laptop with the screen set at about the angle a book is held in a Readwell. If I position my screen at what I find an optimum angle for minimizing eye strain, it’s evident to me doing so with a book will have a similar effect on my eyes. Even when I’m holding a book I’m generally keeping the book perpendicular to my line of sight, not because I’m consciously doing so but because it’s the easiest angle in which to read the text.

It is perhaps a bold claim to say that the Readwell is the best book stand, but as I've tried to make you painfully aware that I sell them this should come as no great surprise. I mean, if you asked me which I think are the best kids in the world I’d obviously say my own...on most days. As I write this I'm slightly disctracted as a one on one basketball game is in full physical force opposite two sheets of non-sound deadening drywall. Wait...I believe it morphed into a Nerf gun battle. Well, that's the least surprising thing in the world.

Anyhow, I’ll give you two, maybe three reasons I think it is indeed the best:

Page turning ease

The biggest complaint I have with other book holders out there is that almost all are designed to hold the book open to one stationary position and they get a bit clumsy if you need to turn pages with regularity. As that’s not how I use a book holder I intentionally looked for a way to make this process a bit more streamlined. To be fair, any book holder makes page turning clumsier than if doing so with one’s hands, but minimizing the annoyance was a high priority for me.

I played with designs that had two separate holders on the outsides of the pages. These always made for a lot of hand movements to turn pages and some books put up a fight (and won) with this style design. This style book holder looks good in still photos but becomes rather inelegant when fumbling around trying to readjust the holders themselves. 

As I noted earlier, it was looking at how one holds a book with one hand that finally inspired my design. To turn a page the book is simply slid out, the page is turned, and it’s slid right back in. With the brass rest properly positioned this is a pretty quick operation and quickly becomes second nature. After enough pages are turned to change the fit substantially (thick on one side of the spine, thin on the other), the brass rest is slid in or out to accommodate the changed situation. I tend to push the rest tight to the acrylic page holder if I’m using the book for reference, but if I'm reading I’ll leave it looser to make getting the book in and out simpler. 

Slip out, turn page, slip in, read.

Stable Footing

I wanted to keep the footprint of the Readwell as small as possible without compromising its ability to support large, heavy books. With my original prototypes I attempted to keep the form factor as small as possible and with something like a textbook it had a tendency to tip over. By extending the base it created a more stable buttress and will support books that ought to come with a shoulder strap without issue. 

A quite large book relaxing in the Readwell book stand

Certainly there are other stable book stands out there, but be mindful of your normal use and even potential use when finding which stand is right for you. It might be worth noting that with my original design I could have photographed it with a textbook in place and it would have looked great. It wouldn't have been until you tried to replicate that use that you'd find the product rather unsatisfactoryafter you've already spent your money on it, mind you. 

Easy on the Eye

This point comes last and for good reason. It may be my bias, but it seems that many new products are at first blush so beautifully designed and so wonderfully presented that I find myself wooed by them and am at times enticed to purchase them. What has happened more than I’d like to admit is a sense of underwhelment (my new word) when I have the goods in hand. Too many things are never quite as beautiful as the model drawings or edited photos led me to believe. It’s further insult to injury when I find the product has a lesser feel in the hand than I would have expected, or it simply doesn’t work as I was led (by my own fancies or by the marketing) to believe.

So, I say with hat in hand, that I think the Readwell is a handsome product designed first to function well, second to look the part. Over the years I've been on both sides of this issue. I’ve scrapped ideas that were functional and ugly and others that were attractive but not terribly useful.


One Final, Immortal Thought

In my layman’s mind I characterize craftsmanship as the creation of useful things made beautifully, and art as beautiful things made beautifully. Art can be art for art’s sake with no function beyond appreciation of the beholder. Tools, on the other hand, must function in a useful way or they cease to be effective tools at all. Craftsmanship takes the best of both to make useful, beautiful objects.

From tool to art. Image credit

Making a useful and beautiful tool is in my estimation a worthy endeavor, and one I hope I can continue to do for many years to come. I of course do it with a biased eye, and I encourage you to heed the old maxim “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.” If you care to ‘taste’ any of our tools we would be most appreciative, and we're confident they'll satisfy.


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