Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 103: When is a book not a book?

Books have not always looked like books.

But we knew that, right?

We knew that in Egypt, their stories were written down on walls and in scrolls of papyrus with pictograms. Ancient civilizations wrote on clay and stone tablets, or in wax on wooden tablets. Eventually they wrote on some form of "paper", though maybe not the pulpy kind we use today. They wrote on vellum, which was paper but made of calf skin. They wrote on paper made of rags.

Books have looked like pillars. Books have looked like walls. Books have looked like tapestries. Books have looked like scrolls.

And finally, books started looking like books. That's the codex form of books. But that form didn't really start showing up until the 2nd century and didn't really catch on until the 5th century.

But how did we go from spooling whole books on scrolls and having to scroll through the whole thing to find what we're looking for to these bound piles of paper that we can open to any point? What other forms could books have taken?

Lesson 104: In Burma, they created "Palm Books".

Turns out they did them in other places too, but today in class we got to see some Burmese Palm Books.

Basically they'd take palm leaves and cut the writing into them, then dry them and rub ink on them to dye the cuts. Each leaf would be numbered and they'd be bound between wooden boards. The string binding it all together was left long enough that it would wrap around the book holding it closed. To read it, you'd untie it and the pages open by fanning out.

They're really beautiful.

There are just so many interesting little anecdotes and entrancing particulates of information in the history of books and bookbinding....

Books used to need straps and clasps to hold them closed because vellum would swell when it got humid and deform the book into a wedge; unless a clasp was keeping it boxy and rectangular.

Paper as we now know it was developed in China and used by Arabs in the 8th century and didn't catch on in Europe until later.

Independent of all of this, Meso-Americans made codex style books where they whitewashed the pages before writing on them.

This class just speaks so much to my nature as an encyclopedia of useless knowledge!

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