When books were written on
silk, clay tablets and leaves ...
handy books were unheard-of for many millennia until paper was widely used in China as a writing
medium in the third century. However, books only entered the industrial age
around 1440 when German goldsmith-printer Johannes Gutenberg invented the
printing press. Huge quantities of literature in different languages later
flooded the marketplace. A new era of publishing and reading began.
Writing was first developed between the 7th
millennium BC and the 4th millennium BC. It consisted of mnemonic symbols
before syllabic and alphabetic writing emerged.
In China, writing was done with brushes on silk and
other materials such as bone, bronze, pottery and shell. Bamboo tablets were
once used as books in China.
Indians turned to dried palm tree leaves as a writing medium, and amatl – a
form of paper made by boiling the inner bark of several species of trees –
appeared in Mesoamerica. The Maya wrote books
on this material.
In the third millennium BC, scribes and
writers used clay tablets. Calamus, a smelly plant with sword-shaped leaves,
was turned into a triangular instrument for making characters in moist clay.
Writing on tablets
Ancient Egypt was also resourceful; it used
papyrus for writing in 2400 BC. The “pen” was made of calamus, the stem of a sharpened reed or bird
feathers. Papyrus books in a roll of several sheets measuring as long as 40
metres were introduced, but most of the books were of political and religious
Romans in ancient times employed a stylus to
write on wax-coated wooden tablets
meant for accounting, writing notes and teaching writing to children. Books
then were censored and “subversive” ones were burned.
Book production began in Rome in the 1st century BC with Latin
literature. Book store sprang up in major cities, and in 377 there were 28
libraries in Rome.
Around the third century BC, parchment
replaced papyrus. Parchment, which was made from skins of animals like sheep,
donkey and antelope,
was more solid and easier to conserve.
Around the first century, China invented
paper made from the bark of blackberry bush. Texts in the form of scrolls were
produced by woodblock printing. By the 6th century, sheets of paper were used
as toilet paper. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), paper was folded and
sewn into square tea bags. The Song Dynasty (AD960-1279) was the first
government to issue paper money.
Between the 2nd century and the 4th century,
the codex with pages bound together and a cover given had replaced the scroll.
For 1,500 years it was to be the standard book form.
Paper from China
In the West and the Eastern
Empire, monasteries set up workrooms complete with libraries for
monk copyists. Books were copied, decorated, rebound and conserved.
In university cities in Europe,
professors used reference manuscripts to teach theology and liberal
Specialized and general texts for law, history and novels were in demand
following the development of commerce and the bourgeoisie.
Between the 11th century and 12th century,
Arabs in Spain exported
paper from China to Europe. By the 14th century, the use of paper became
popular throughout Europe.
It was the invention of the printing press
by Gutenberg that changed the face of publishing. The cost of large-volume books dropped tremendously.
In 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed with the movable metal
type. Twenty years later, Recuyell of the
Historyes of Troye was the first English language book printed.
From 1499 to 1561, books were printed in
Basque, French, Polish, Romanian and Yiddish. The following two centuries saw
an inundation of children’s story books, which were often illustrated, fairy
tales and educational literature. Children were entertained by best-selling
publications such as The Tales of Robin
Hood, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.
Many literary awards
More books were on the market after two
notable innovations in the early
presses and steam paper mills. Writers fascinated children with The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Emperor’s
New Clothes, Alice’s Adventure in
Wonderland and paperback books of the same genre. Publishers and authors
from Denmark, Switzerland and Italy
cashed in with titles such as Treasure Island,
The Adventures of
Pinocchio and The
Readers in the 20th century were spoiled for
choice. For adventure stories or fairy tales, they snapped up titles like Winner the Pooh, Little House on the Prairie
and Harry Potter. The Internet
introduced e-books and desktop publishing became widespread.
Writers are not left out. In recognition of
their contribution as many organizations present them a number of awards. Outstanding ones receive the Canadian
Governor General’s Literary Award for Children‘s Literature and Illustration
and the Philippine Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for Short
Stories for Children, the US National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
and Orbis Pictus Award for excellence in writing of nonfiction for children.