`100 Books' a bibliophile's delight

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The great 16th century humanist Erasmus once famously uttered: "If I have a little money, I buy books. If there is some left over, I buy food and clothes."

Even in the age of Kindles and e-books and phone apps and digital subscriptions, there is still something about holding a book in one's hands, a joy which, perhaps, is partially missing from many of today's younger readers.

But this really isn't generational whining, and I found myself cooing this past Christmas when I unwrapped, from under the tree, "The History of the Book in 100 Books," by Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad.

The volume (Firefly Books, 2014, Softcover, 288 pages, $ 29.95) is not just an affordable coffee table book with all-glossy, illustrated pages at a tidy 8-by-0.9-by-10 inches. It is also, arguably, a feast for the senses with the first turn of the page, a visual cornucopia of images carefully curated — and that make you want to read more.

The books chosen are listed by thematic era, and thus are loosely arranged chronologically as they fit in said themes. The authors, who have collaborated on several other projects, know what they're doing, even if the choice of the 100 include so-called "locks," as well as contested and otherwise obscure tomes.

Cave is a print historian and librarian who has worked with rare book collections and developed information science courses in libraries and universities around the world. Ayad is an art historian and picture researcher, with a special interest in book history. Her work in compiling the books 300-plus illustrations and captions and index entries are of particularly superior quality, while also very readable.

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Eleven chapters with titles such as "In the Beginning," "Light from The East," "Wheels of Change," "Print and Steam," and "Digitization and The Future of the Book," offer up tasty morsels which allow a reader to move through the book start to finish, or whimsically pick and choose whatever looks good on the menu on the particular day in question.

Here's an inside scoop from the printing of the classic 15th century commissioned world history written by Hartmann Schedel, the "Nuremberg Chronicle." It certainly lends some insight into how the more things change, the more they stay the same:

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"The financiers [of the book] made substantial profits from their venture, but not without piracy from other unscrupulous printers: The enterprising Augsburg printer Johann Schonsperger (c.1455 - before 1521) produced three cheaper and more compact editions. Schonsperger followed the Woldemut/Pleydenwurff woodcuts, sometime simplifying their designs to suit the small format. In those days before copyright, the production of these cheaper versions deterred the original Nuremberg publishers from printing new editions of this remarkable book."

The bold print word format is not to be underestimated. These offerings are thickly sprinkled throughout the narrative as each one leads to a glossary entry in a 15-page section of the book that is not only beautifully illustrated in its own right, but reads like a primer which provides meaningful depth to the proceedings.

For those concerned with breadth, the authors also don't ignore kitsch. This volume may speak to the likes of the Gutenberg Bible, but it also includes captions on books stemming from "street literature," a Brazilian and Nigerian phenomenon of the 1960s. Here's one called "How to Make Friends With Girls," written by "Miss Rose, the Lover of Jericho."

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"[This is] an example of street literature from Nigeria, published by the J.C. Brothers Bookshop, 1965, when the Onitsha market for literature was at its peak. Religious tracts, how-to manuals, drama, fiction, and social etiquette were popular themes. The cover illustration appears to have been lifted from a knitting pattern for a sweater, hardly suitable for Nigerian weather."

Fantastic stuff right there!

I would be remiss if I didn't add that one problem — if you can call it that — with this book is that you can get lost for hours chomping on its visual bait hooks, only to look up at the clock and oops! You just forgot to be somewhere or do something on your daily fridge-list.

Which makes "The History of the Book in 100 Books" a must-have for all bibliophiles, as well as those who, like Erasmus, might find a bit of spare change in their pockets.

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at: E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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