When I sat down to think about what kind of post I could write for my blog I was a little stumped. What I asked myself, what, I asked myself again in case I hadn’t heard myself, could I possibly write about that would be meaningful, insightful, intelligent – make a statement?
Then the light bulb came on.
It wasn’t an idea that came to me, it was just the timer switching the light on, but it did illuminate my bookshelf and the books upon it. Looking at them I thought, “where did all of these books come from? What is their story? What is the history of books?”
And then it came to me…..
Why don’t I write a post about my bookshelf? How shiny it is in the lamp light. How the grain really brings out the books? But then I thought, nah, that would be too totes emosh for everyone to read. So I thought on, and then something that I thought earlier came back to me….
Now, I’m no histographer, but I do know what the internet is, so I thought, how hard can it be to research and write a complete and concise history of the book-ed word? Well, I tried and discovered a ton of interesting facts that I just had to share with you all.
And so, I implore you to read on and found out wot I did find out as I present to you, in several parts-yet-to-be-decided…
In the Beginning there were no books. Obvious if you think about it. Who would’ve read them? Sniffed them? Felt the rustle of their pages? Exactly. If there were it is very likely that they were vapourised to cosmic dust in the Big Bang. So books, and therefore words, were gone. Kaput.
After the Big Bang, once the dust had settled, quite literally as it happened, into the stars and planets, on one planet in particular, life slowly began. Bookless for millions and millions of years, teeny tiny unicellular primitive life forms swam about, bumping into each other, eating each other and generally having a very boring time of it. Fortunately for them brains hadn’t yet evolved and so they were totally oblivious to the tedium.
Then the dinosaurs evolved, crucially with brains, albeit small, walnuty affairs, but they too had no books to pass the time. Quite how they lasted for 100 million years without them is beyond me. It’s no wonder they ate one another and were angry all the time.
And then something big happened. From out of nowhere (well, not nowhere, obvs. It came from space and that’s an awful lot of somewhere), a huge, bloody-hell-that’s-a-whopper-innit asteroid thumped into the Earth obliterating the Dinosaurs in one fell swoop, creating the Atlantic Ocean at the same time, and, after a couple of bounces, finally settled into what we now know as Africa.
Scholars now secretly believe that although that asteroid was clearly bad news for the tiny brained, angry Dinosaurs, fortunately for us it also brought with it the very first words. Why secretly? Well, would you believe it if they told you? No, exactly.
The words were broken up by the force of the impact into letters and scattered throughout the Earth’s atmosphere, seemingly doomed to circle the planet for all eternity, unread, unassembled, unloved.
Then something amazing happened. A very, very long time after the asteroid had hit, cooled and settled down a bit, grew trees and flowers and stuff, life evolved anew from the little hairy creatures that managed to avoid the devastation millenia, or trillienia, earlier. An ape-like creature (calm your tits creationists! This wasn’t an actual ape. They were very happy munching on berries, sitting around scratching and sniffing their own, and each others, bums and generally dossing around; much like today’s apes. Also, clearly from that description above some of those genes were handed down to modern humans, but we are not descended from them. So, there), decided that it had had quite enough thank you very much of living in the trees and ventured onto the ground. Immediately liking what it found it stood up, dragged its family along with it, and began an exciting new life on two legs.
Sadly, they were immediately eaten by what would eventually become a leopard, but that didn’t stop its brothers and sisters and other kin from becoming wrapped up in the curiosity and after a couple of false starts (the next lot were carried off by vultures; two more were carried off by ants – what? they were big bloody things in those days; many misjudged the distance to the ground and broke their neck; several more fell into a pit of quicksand just a few feet from the tree; they weren’t a lucky lot), enough survived to spread out from the tree and start living in the wide open plain.
Modern humanity was born.
The trouble was it was bloody freezing away from the shelter of the tree. They hadn’t invented clothing yet; they had no need for it up in the trees, plus they really were hairy buggers. There were also lots of eaty, bitey, chase-you-until-they-caught-you-then-tore-you-to-pieces-things about and they were forever running away from stuff. Weapons were a thing of the future; berries and leaves didn’t creep up and eat you if you weren’t looking, so they were quite unable to defend themselves. This new life was tough. It was knackering, quite frankly. So it was, some time later, that they happened upon a cave. It was warmer in there, safer too. It was dark, no one had invented fire yet, but beggars can’t be choosers, and these early hominids decided to stay and, lo, the cave-man was born.
Over time they discovered fire, and also sticks and stones to hunt, kill and basically hit things, and each other, with. They were having a jolly old time.
We were now into the Sticks and Stones and Fire Age. Of course we know it by its shorter, snappier name: The Stone Age.
But there were still no books. Stories had begun to exist; handed, or mouthed, down from adult to adult as they huddled around their fires of an evening chewing on the days kill, probably some sabre-toothed cave squirrel or such like. The letters that had been circling the globe for so many millions of years had finally found a conduit to reform and become words once more. Sadly those words were mostly “ugh”, “ook”, “argh”, “mmph” and so on, so many of them still circled about (that is until Zebras and Xylophones to name two, were invented anyway). As with many stories told orally, details were sketchy, lost or just made up to impress. They often changed as they were told to others so as to be totally different to the original tale. There’s only so much you can really say without a coherent language or properly working voicebox, and so they had to resort to hand gestures, body movements and impressions of the animals and/or people they met. Hilarity often ensued. Or at least it would’ve if they were able to laugh. Laughter hadn’t been invented yet and so more often they resorted to hitting each other with clubs and stones until one or both of them was no longer moving, then they ate them. Waste not and all that.
Then, one fateful day, quite possibly a very distant, and hairier, nakeder, ancestor of Vincent Van Gough, who knows?, came home from a hard days hunting exhausted and hungry. He flopped down into his mammoth skinned comfy chair, the one he always sits in after getting home and woe betide anyone else who is using it, and observes his young child, not even a toddler yet, sitting on the floor holding a white stone and making some marks on the floor. Curious he gets up and scoops the child into his arms and takes the stone off of them. He stares at it for a moment then throws the useless thing away, but, crucially, he keeps hold of the stone. He walks over to his wall, a brown, blank space and starts to draw. He draws mammoth, buffalo, sabre-toothed this and that, his wife, his crying child, and anything else that comes into his primitive mind, and before long the entire cave is festooned with drawings telling the story of his day.
When his wife returns from the river, fingers bleeding and sore after spending hour upon hour washing his filthy loincloths, he stands proudly before her, beaming, gesturing wide with his arms at his work, eager to for her to see what he has been up to all day. Proud as punch, he is. Well chuffed.
He takes one look at her, livid, red faced and steaming, and immediately fetches his cloth while she stands over him, club in hand until he’s washed off every last mark.
And so the very first book was created…and lost.
However, as tales of his foolishness and humiliation spread, other brave, less intimidated souls, were inspired to try out this new way of telling stories and so it was, over time, that the cave painting was created and the very first “books”, as were, began.
Word spread and people gesticulated, often with hilarious results, assuming they could laugh, which we’ve already established that they couldn’t, but you get the idea, that they wanted to see and partake of this newfangled way of finding out what other people have done. Of course you can’t take a cave painting with you; you had to go to it. Some tried, but as if decorating one’s abode with all manner of pictures wasn’t enough to incense some cave owners, carving entire chunks of the living room wall out just to share with your friends and neighbours, especially if they moved and didn’t bring the bloody things back, was tantamount to murder in some caveholds. Plus they were heavy. The bad back and hernia were invented around this time. Something had to be done.
Eventually some enterprising young cave-person had the bright idea of drawing their stories onto animal skins. These were lighter, easier to move about and abundant. They were then collected together, some were even stitched, or ‘bound’ as it became known thousands of years later, and thus the first true books were born.
There was much rejoicing.
But then the Ice Age came and times became even tougher and the need to keep warm and survive took precedence over the books, and so they were all summarily unbound, and turned into coats, and thus it was that books were once again lost to humanity for an age.
There was much un-rejoicing.
But the Ice-Age eventually outstayed its welcome and passed, leaving a black slushy mess in its wake, and humanity survived and entered into the Bronze Age.
The Bronze Age was very much like the Stone Age, only shinier. Books were still a thing of the past; they remained lost to humanity, stories once again told orally and with many a hilarious game of charades (laughter had now evolved. Well, you’d need to laugh after surviving a thousand years of snow and ice and eating moss). It isn’t known exactly when books were rediscovered. In my research I haven’t been able to source the exact date, or how it happened, but I can confidently guess that someone, somewhere, possibly, stumbled across a Stone Age book, forgotten in the “Great Un-Binding“, buried for millennia under the snow and ice. To the Bronze Age person’s more evolved eyes this could only have been a thing of great curiosity and amazement. It told of creatures now long extinct, and of those people who were brave enough to hunt them. And thus books were rediscovered.
There was some rejoicing. Less than the first time for some reason.
Of course, leather was old hat (although hats as we know them had yet to be invented. That discovery is outside of the remit of this blog post). Now we had shiny, exciting bronze to play with. Cattle, and their kin, rejoiced as they got to keep their skins to themselves and were generally happier looking creatures than the animals we know now.
Everything was made of bronze back then: toothbrushes; cutlery; Frisbees; beds; bedding; cushions; false limbs; hats (oh, wait, there they are. Well, um, these hats were really for protective purposes, not decorative, so my claim stands); you name it, it was made from bronze. Bronze this, bronze that, bronze the other; really, the whole thing got very old very quickly, but they were stuck with it for now. So it was only natural for the leather bound books to fall out of favour and become bronze; the pictures scratched into the surface with newly invented, bronze of course, scratching sticks. It wasn’t as pretty, granted, but it got their point across. They also became heavier, and so the hernias returned and became a permanent feature of humanity.
Soon after the Bronze Age humanity became bored and moved into the Iron Age. This era of history wasn’t as shiny, and it was also noticeably heavier. Books became unwieldy things. If you wanted a lend of a particular book from a friend or neighbour then it had to be dragged there by one of the newfangled horses that had become very popular over the previous century or so. Frankly it was a chore and so it was that books became the province of the wealthy, those who could afford a strong, sturdy horse, or even more if the book was a particularly long one, with which to drag them about. The poor were left to make do without and had to sit by their fires of an evening simply staring at each other until language was invented.
Fortunately for them it came along very quickly after someone dropped a book on their foot and yelled “Owwwwwwwwwwwchuhhhhhhh“. Things progressed pretty quickly after that and very soon people began to write their stories in words. Once more, the letters that by now were growing tired and pretty pissed off up there in the atmosphere rejoiced and found a real and proper home and words were here to stay.
There was still the problem of the heaviness and very iron-ness of the books themselves though. Someone needed to invent a surface that was lighter, easier to carry about, but that would still enable the newly discovered words to be written onto the surface. Some foolish people had tried using water, which was lighter and could be carried in buckets, but they had all drowned after falling into rivers and lakes trying to retrieve their scratching sticks (the word “pen” wouldn’t appear for thousands of years yet, not until Sir Theobald Pen invented a small tubular device that fitted comfortably into the hand and allowed ink, a newly discovered substance milked from octopuses kept in large, and somewhat controversial, Ink Farms, to flow freely. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here).
It took another, very different, civilisation, thousands of miles away on another continent, to invent a lighter, more portable surface on which to scribe the words and revolutionised the reading experience:
We shall see how they achieved this, and the repercussions of their discovery on the evolution of books and humanity, in Part 2.
Until next time,
Peace and Book Love, TBBB. X