The Story of the Book – Agnes Allen

Suzie Eisfelder
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This book was on my TBR pile thanks to Jeff Kennett. I hear you asking why. I’ve never met the man and have no intention of every attempting to do so. He was Premier of Victoria from 1992 to 1999. During that time he closed many schools, both primary and secondary. At the same time I was on the committee of the Moorabbin Area Toy Library (MATL).I just want to digress for a moment. Toy Libraries are one of the greatest inventions. You get to borrow lots of toys for your kids, they get variety and all you have to do is pay a small fee, then wash the toys before you return. They are a fabulous way of getting variety without breaking the bank and without putting a lot more stress on the environment.

Back to the story. Some of the schools were sold off while others were repurposed. MATL was being moved from a half house to a couple of classrooms in one of these closed schools. In the room across the hallway was the library. All the books were going to go to the tip. Many of us felt this totally the wrong thing to happen to valuable books so we liberated as many as we could. Most of the ones I wanted were already gone by the time I ventured into the library but I took some that looked interesting. They sat on my shelves until this year. Thanks to the Dymocks Reading Challenge of 2020 I have now read this book. It’s only been on my shelf since around 1995, not long at all.

This book is very interesting. It’s aimed at kids so the general level of information is not too intense. At times there seems to be more than I need and at other times I’ve made a note of ‘not much detail here’. The beginning of the story of the book is with writing and how it came about. From the very first cave painting and how the paintings evolved into letters. It includes how the letters evolved from one shape into something very vaguely similar.

From pictures on the wall through to letters and then onto printing and the printing press. As you might have noticed I’m ignoring most of the stages in between. What I want to do is highlight just a few things from this book.

Only twenty years after Gutenberg printed his Bible…cue photo that I took myself at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

A man by the name of William Caxton set up his printing press in London. According to the book

England is the only country in Europe in which the new art was introduced by a native instead of by someone from a foreign land, and it is the only country in which the first book to be printed was in the language of the country itself.

When he died in 1491 his business went to an apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde. Caxton had no sons, I haven’t found if he had daughters. If you’re a Terry Pratchett fan you’ll probably be familiar with The Truth which deals with the first newspaper printed on a printing press. The man in this book is called William de Worde. I am convinced there is no coincidence here.

One thing that is mentioned is selling books by subscription. Before bookshops what a publisher or author often used to do is to have an idea for a book, even start writing it, but then they started selling copies before they’d even finished writing. It was one way for them to be able to make ends meet while writing. What often happens now is that books, movies and other things are sometimes sold beforehand using crowdfunding. I just feel we’re going back to the olden days sometimes.

The last thing I wish to talk about from this book is how the author considered we might consume books in the future. Bear in mind this book was originally published in 1967. Many records and newspapers were starting to be kept on microfiche or microfilm. It was one way of storing many, many newspapers in a very small format. Each page was photographed and reduced onto a cine-film which could then be wound through a machine to enlarge each page and make them large again. I feel very silly telling you all this as I suspect you know, but in 1967 many people had no idea. Allen suggested that books in the future might be kept on microfilm with all our homes fitted with the necessary equipment. Little did she know.


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