Sunday, July 28, 2013

Making Books Live

Recently I was researching material for a book set in medieval England and delved into what kind of books were in use then. This prompted me to review the history of book making from the writings of the ancient world engraved on stone tablets, progressing to text inscribed on papyrus in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs and parchment in Greece and the
Middle East to paper in China. The invention of the movable type printing press by Gutenberg in the 1400"s expanded phenomenally the manufacture of books and the distribution of knowledge. And then on to ebooks and the Gutenberg Project which encourages ebooks distribution and expanding information, knowledge and story.

Back in medieval England, books or manuscripts were hand written on parchment and
used by scribes and scholars in goverment, the church and business, as well as by students in universities. We stand in awe of these historic volumes in museums and libraries and prize their history, language, script and illuminations. Hopefully some of the books we work on and produce in printed form or in the eworld will survive to be used and enjoyed in the future, and maybe even occasionally some one in the future will look at them with a little awe. 


  1. I would hope the 21st century will produce works of lasting value. Which titles could they be? Anyone have suggestions?

  2. The beauty of painstaking writing on parchment can't be repeated in an ebook, but words with power and beauty are written in every century -- every decade!

    One of my favorite YAs is A Northern Light. In it, there are so many conflicts and themes told so simply and beautifully. Yes, lasting value.

  3. Last month I was at the Bodleian Library and saw this wonderful small exhibit on Fantasy Literature writing and illustration (thank you Ariel Zeitlin Cooke for pointing it out even before I left). The materials ranged from a 500-year-old illuminated book of King Arthur and illustrations on an alchemy guide to manuscripts and illustrations from several decades ago from C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman. Your blog post made me realize that although the 'newer' materials were a pleasure to look at, the most beautiful ones were the oldest ones. So, even before the advent of electronic publishing, we have seen a significant decrease in the beauty of book-making. Still, wonderful picture books are still being published, and parents are still buying them for younger readers, I hope.

  4. This spring I went to an exhibit of manuscripts at the Jewish Museum and was surprised to find out that although Jews are often called the People of the Book, we clung to scrolls for a very long time. The Torah is still being written by scribes in special ink on virgin parchment. It was a thrill to see the familiar opening of Genesis in Hebrew with medieval style illumination. Probably my favorite thing was Maimonides's notebook of Talmudic commentary and musings in his own handwriting!

  5. P.S. Still totally jealous you got to go to the Bodleian show, Helen! Lucky duck!!!