Saturday 2 January 2010

Books, books - Glorious books ...

Are you a bibliophile? Do you like plain books, reference books, illuminated manuscripts? Ancient books on parchment, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls? Did you know, that at first, words were not separated from each other (scriptura continua) and there was no punctuation. Reading today can be tricky sometimes, with punctuation and with word breaks .. how about then – 1800 BC with neither?

Books: Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina; Amartya Sen – The Argumentative Indian; Edwards -The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Clark – a Farewell to Alms; A L Basham – the Wonder that was India; Gurcharan Das – India Unbound

On top of that, texts were written from right to left, then following on from the left to the right – so alternate lines read in opposite directions. The technical term for this type of writing is ‘boustrophedon’, which means literally ‘ox-turning’ for the way a farmer drives an ox to plough his fields. Another topic, another day, I think.

At home we used to have lots of reference books around, as well as book books – I started voraciously reading all the fairy stories, fables, parables and we had a well stocked childrens’ ‘library’ .. I miss them ‘they felt like home’. I then moved on to detective stories, novels, historical romantic stories, English literature and plays, and so on as we all go through our lives & I found a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – that had just been unbanned .. I read it – as any teenager would have done?

When I had my first flat in London .. I filled it mainly with information and reference books and they’ve stayed with me ever since – we needed those then, and despite the net I still use them now, some older editions with a duplicated more up-to-date version. I also have scores of cookery books, books on Africa .. and seem to collect as I go: I’m sure we all do – what books have you got on your shelves?

Since I’ve started this blog I’ve learnt so much – subjects that interested me, snippets and pictures that my mother has loved, and articles to which my uncle was able to add to my beleaguered knowledge, without reference to books or the internet. He was often delving in his encyclopaedia – 24 volumes of it – searching for answers.

A 15th century incunabulum (is a printed (not handwritten) book or sheet of text before the year 1501). Notice the blind-tooled cover, corner bosses and clasps.

In my ‘research’ I often use the magic of Wikipedia and am amazed at the information that is open to us at the touch of a button. I sometimes have great difficulty keeping myself on the topic I have selected – sometimes it changes – and recently I’ve started keeping notes of ideas I come across.

We know written records have been around for millennia, but I’ve been struck by the range of subjects that were written early on, which then have set the standards: eg Codex. A codex (Latin for a block of wood, book) is a book in the form we know it today – it was a Roman invention that replaced the scroll, and was the first form of book in Eurasian cultures.

Real-size facsimile of Codex Gigas: the largest medieval manuscript in the world, created in the early 13th century.

The earliest code of Roman Law (451 – 450BC), compiled by the Decemviri (a commission of ten learned men) was written on 12 tablets, which in Cicero’s time was required to be learnt by heart.
Julius Caesar’s book on The Gallic War (52 – 51B) is still highly regarded today, being written in clear Latin, while also being the first authoritative book for Latin students: this was confirmed when the Asterix albums came out, as gags had been included for the French schoolchildren, who had the Commentarii de Bello Gallico as a textbook!

Probably, when I was looking for Christmas recipes on feasts – the post got hung over! – I came across the Roman cookery collection from the late 4th or early 5th century AD, called De Re Coquinaraia (On the Subject of Cooking), which contains recipes for stuffed chicken, hare, pig and dormouse! To top it off these recipes were written in a language that has been described as being closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin – now did you know there was a language called “Vulgar”?

Libraries surprisingly were well established in Roman times, having first appeared in classical Greece, and it was estimated that by the end of 3rd Century AD there were 30 public libraries in the city of Rome, which were available to anyone interested in using them. Later in the Middle Ages monasteries and universities also had libraries that were accessible by interested parties; however the books could not be borrowed and were often chained to reading stands or shelves to prevent theft – Chained Libraries.

Celsus Library, Ephesus, Asia Minor was built in 135 AD and could house around 12,000 scrolls

The most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript is the Book of Hours – all unique in their own way, but most containing a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations. These Books of Hours were usually written in Latin, although many were written entirely or in part in vernacular European languages. Scotland’s oldest book, a Celtic Psalter, went on show in December in Edinburgh for only the second time in 1,000 years – it is written in Latin, but with Celtic and Pictish illustrations of dragons and other ‘beasts’.

Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist, who practised in ancient Rome during the time of Nero (54 – 68 AD), wrote a five-volume book De Meteria Medica (Regarding Medical Matters), that is a precursor to all modern pharmacopeias. Pliny the elder was an author, naturalist and natural philosopher as well as writing an encyclopedic work “Naturalis Historia”, died in AD 79 endeavouring to rescue the citizens of Pompeii, during the eruption of Vesuvius.

A page from the 144 page medieval Psalter – reflecting the brightness of the manuscript – the greens, purples, reds and yellows. (Courtesy Medieval News)

Don’t forget the Venerable Bede, who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (finished 731AD), and many other monks, other translations and all those developments since the introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 – maps, atlases, dictionaries, guides, novels etc etc .. and now we have the internet and we can listen to books, read books on Readers, write books somehow, somewhere out there .. known as ebooks.

Will books last – I hope so .. we’ve been reading them for over three and half thousand years and are still learning more and more about our history through their pictures and text ... books, books, glorious books – but I too must laud Wikipedia and its concept.

Well Mr Postman I guess you do your fair share of book deliveries, but I expect you enjoy reading too, as well as researching the internet .. I know my mother loved her books and still loves learning .. and amazes me what she can remember .. lapis lazuli for instance – as a blue precious stone: we’d pulled one of her Christmas crackers and out popped a hair band with two blue ‘dice’ sized baubles .. fairly quickly my Ma said just like lapis lazuli – incredible for someone who has been confined to bed for nearly three years now, with very little input.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Jannie Funster said...

Okay, this so inspires to to take a photo of the books on my shelves for blog listing

And wait with bated breath for a posting on how a farmer turns his oxen.

Lapis lazuli , how beautiful. When I am old lady I would not be surprised if some of the things party poppers will make me recall are lilacs, extra-honeyed baklava,
Bach's air on the g string, the feel of a velvet hat and the taste of a whole summer in a single raspberry.

A few titles on one of my shelves...

-- The Beauty of Bermuda by Scott Stallard
-- The World's Railroads by Christopher Chant
-- Georgia O Keefe
-- Above Paris by Cameron and Salinger
-- the Wooden Boat by Gribbons
-- Step By Step Landscaping, Better Homes And Gardens
-- Bra Flinging Today by Jannie Funster

what about socks?? I've been wondering the history of socks. But after the oxen - of course!!!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie - how right you are .. I should have taken a photo of my own books shouldn't I? doh doh .. Actually that's quie good - I'd have a good base - cook books! and then two more stories (levels of house) to go!

Turning oxen - ok - well that's a challenge .. but I've been promising my Ma to do one on Heavy Horses - and they pull all kinds of things: so patience is a virtue and it'll get done. Socks .. foot coverings too .. I had a fun joke about cobblers that Mum laughed about .. poor postman - he's getting some real eclectic letters to deliver ...

Extra honey baklava out of a Christmas cracker - now that would be interesting .. but I agree I love it & make it occasionally.

Ooh - I wouldn't want summer to go quite as quickly as just one raspberry .. when Mum was in hospital the first year and still eating tiny amounts - I'd take up pureed raspberries for her .. with a little Cornish cream - til that got too rich. So scores of raspberries please ..

Ah - Blue Bunny needs to be consulted by Hardwick about the book titled Bra Flinging by the well known author and songster Jannie Funster .. perhaps it should be classified with Lady Chatterley's Lover .. sounds of similar ilk and placed high on newsagents shelves out of reach of Kelly age kiddos ..

Now I need another coffee - have an excellent day .. Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Joyce said...

Hi Hilary! I think I've commented on your pantomine article instead of this one. Anyways, I'm a bibiophile, I just love books! ;-) How I wish I could have my own library here at the house.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joyce - you did too .. but I published it!

Glad we've got another bibliphile amongst us - and I'd love to come over to your library, read, drink coffee or have tea with you and chat, swop ideas etc - per your Pantomime post!

One day - we'll have that success and the books we need and love around us .. - then I can come for a visit ..

Have a brilliant year -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I work in the technology department in a school district and love the Internets. I do wonder if the actual physical book will someday be rare as the interest of ebooks become popular and keeping a book on your shelf isn't needed. Here is an example.

A local club gives dictionaries to the third grade classes. Now that is exciting to me. A youngish man I work with said why would you need a dictionary when you can get online and find the meaning of any word? Well we had a very good debate. My final words to him were if nothing else you can't open the computer screen or the e-readers and smell the pages but can with a book. :) We all laughed. This year, which is funny too, his 3rd grader received a huge dictionary from the club.

Great post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Journaling Woman - thanks for stopping over here - good to have another intellectual commenting. I'm sure the books we have in existence today will be museum pieces, those that aren't already .. presumably the important ones will be scanned and available online too. New ones will ??? be on the net - personally I prefer to read with a book book - but others adapt.

I agree giving a dictionary that is yours should be exciting, especially aged 8 or 9. It's funny I sit here drafting .. but quite often look up words, or synonyms etc in my books - I don't get distracted putting in the info, or by the ads flashing up, or by sometimes what I think is the right info - i.e. it's not what I expected.

I have to say (perhaps at that age I wouldn't have either - the kids or your youngish man - when computers are playing still - well to 8 and 9 year olds they are!) I won't be giving up my reference books for the internet - yes I'll use it in conjunction with my books. Personally I can't look at a screen many hours a day .. if I'm working I like to sit with my books and a pencil and paper too!

Smell the books, antiquity - rather than smell the flowers .. will we get smells introduced via the net sometime in the distant future ..

I'd have laughed at the joke of getting the large dictionary too ..

Thanks for sharing - good story on books ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Patricia said...

Oh Hilary, I love to read and love books...spawned a Librarian who got her own data blog on books for Christmas....

I must come back and make a better reply...I am being called away right now....
Great post...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. you did what? spawned a Librarian .. with her own data blog on books - please enlighten us, when you come back ..

Looking forward to hearing more .. sounds an interesting Christmas time ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jannie Funster said...


BB and I try keep the bra flinging to a very bare minimum!! Oh gosh, "bare..."

No kids ever involved!! :)

As to Journalling Woman, I think that's funny. Dictionaries are wonderful, aren't they, I hope they never fall by teh wayside. Encyclopediae, I can see being phased out altoghter, tho.

Books, wonderful, wonderful books. LOVE them! even ones that have no pictures.

And another coffee sounds very fine, my friend. After all, morning is only just over 15 minutes ago here!! Still a young and spritely day.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. you and BB .. mind you - you would not be bare over here .. it is positively freezing .. We need a new book from entitled "Living with your bra" - it's extra comfort now! I had to cover Mum and Hardwick up with blankets - very, very unusual.

Yes - Journaling Woman was having some fun .. thank goodness for laughter (even at others' expense) ..

Books and more books - yes please .. now it's a glass of vino time - is your bottle available??!!

Cheers for now to you & BB .. !

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

Hope that you had a good new years day.

To learn more about books now that is a treat. They are great adventures.

Love the ones with fairies and dwarfs and the like. Sci-fi is also a great read. Westerns. And so many more.

Thank you for all that you teach us as you go searching in your find book and on the internet.

Keep up the great work.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deanna .. thank you I did .. and hope you all had a good festive times and will have a 2010.

Good to hear about your reading likes .. I've never got into Sci Fi .. however H G Wells' War of the World I've enjoyed ..

Thanks for being here - books offer so much .. learning, escape .. etc

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...


You inspire so many readers with your books and stories, what a blessing to visit your site.

I featured your link in my post today, ask readers to visit you under their wish...
thank you for stopping by my place today.

enjoy a grand Wednesday.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ji .. that's very kind of you with your comments, and for featuring my link on your post today .. that's really kind.

It's a snowy 'grand' Wednesday! It's good to know you and see you here .. I'm just happy you're enjoying the stories and information I provide ..

You're linking the world .. love that -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories