Don Vincente wanted just one thing: to own the sole surviving copy of Furs e ordinations
, printed in 1482 by Lamberto Palmart, Spain’s first printer. Vincente ran a Barcelona bookshop stocked with books he’d plundered from ancient monasteries, including the one near Tarragona where he once lived as a monk. When the Furs
finally came up for auction, he bid everything he had, but it wasn’t enough. The book went to his rival Paxtot, whose house mysteriously burst into flames a few nights later. The bookseller burned to death, but the precious Furs
was discovered unharmed in Vincente’s shop. At the trial, Don Vincente’s lawyer produced a second copy of the rare book. “You see,” he argued convincingly, “the one in Vincente’s shop was not necessarily Paxtot’s.”
“Execute me now!” moaned Don Vincente. “My copy is not the only one!”
Colmán of Elo was tired. Tired of reading and tired of the fly that buzzed across his vellum page.
“Sit!” he commanded the fly. The fly turned its mosaic eyes upon the blessed saint who wrote Airgitir Crábaid, now the earliest example of Old Irish Prose.
“Sit there!” commanded Colmán, pointing to the last word he’d read. And so the fly sat, patiently waiting until the saint returned to his reading in the Abbey of Muckamore.
In the photograph, the woman is naked except for manly black brogues and argyle socks held up by leather sock suspenders. She sits splay-legged on a stool. An antiquarian book the size of a ledger is propped open between her legs. With one hand, she turns a page. In the other she holds a long feathered quill. Her eyes are closed in ecstasy and her head tips back as she dips the pen deep into her wide open mouth.
Jonathan Swift imagined a battle of books in the night, volumes hurling themselves off the shelves to tear each other’s pages out. But what really happens when the lights are dimmed, when readers go home, when a library falls into disuse or is abandoned to human disaster?
Over the course of a hundred nights, a hundred years ago, a dark figure heaved bag after heavy bag off the Hammersmith Bridge into the River Thames.
“If I don’t have it, I make it,” Hugh Barclay says, sawing a groove into the body of a letter A so he can insert a short sliver of lead to create an accented vowel. “What else is a person to do?”
Most of my day is spent in front of a computer screen. I read thousands of words between dawn and dusk. But when I say to my husband, “I’m going to read now,” he knows what I mean. I’m leaving him for a book.
2017 is the 40th anniversary of the personal computer and the 25th anniversary of the first ereader. A quarter century and millions of ebooks later, writers and readers, friends and pundits are still arguing over whether this is a good way to read books.
People often say that writing a book must be like having a baby, to which I respond, “I wish it only took nine months!” Writing
may not be like childbirth, but producing
a book is. The minute the physical object is in your hands, the hard parts are forgotten.
Dear Books Unpacked Readers,
Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: A Book Lover Bridges the Digital Divide will be released in April 2017. In anticipation, ECW Press is giving away 5 Advance reading Copies (ARCs) through a Goodreads Draw. If you’d like to enter the draw, click here:
And please—let me know your thoughts on some future BUB (oh dear, the unfortunate acronym for Books Unpacked Blog!)