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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“About Books” Debuts


Our moderated discussion took a brief vacation and returns this week with a new name: “About Books.” As a public library we have always been “about books” and thought the new title better reflected the posts that appear here each week.

The definition of the book is in transition so I decided to research the origin of the term. Until recently a “book” described “a written or printed work of fiction or non-fiction usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers.”

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “book” comes from the Old English “bok,” which in term derives from a Germanic root for “beech,” perhaps originating from the beech wood tablets that runes were inscribed on. Latin and Sanskrit have words for writing that are based on tree names, as well – “birch” and “ash” respectively -- according the above etymology dictionary.

If you studied ancient civilizations in grammar school, you’ll recall that when writing systems were first invented, anything from stone, clay, metal sheets, as well as tree bark could be written on. This evolved into the papyrus scrolls used by the Egyptians, then to the wax and wooden tablets that began to appear in the 3rd and 4th centuries. This codex form was more efficient because it could be written on both sides. Ultimately the codex became the familiar book of today.

So, it shouldn’t seem strange that books can now take on a new – electronic – form and be read on all types of devices – e-readers, tablets, even smart phones.
It is just another step in the evolution of the written word.

If you are interested in the history of books and writing, here are a few books to browse:

The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future by Robert Darnton

Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture by Nicholas Basbanes

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

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