The Book as Shape-Shifter

Today’s Bookish Quote is from Ben Ehrenreich’s “The Death of the Book,” an essay posted to the preview issue of the soon-to-be-officially-launched Los Angeles Review of Books:

“All of our words for book refer, at root, to forms no longer recognizable as such: biblos being the Greek word for the pith of the papyrus stalk (on which texts in the Greco-Roman world were inscribed); libri being Latin for the inner bark of a tree, just as the Old English bóc and Old Norse bók referred to the beech tree. Likewise “tome” is from a Greek word for a cutting (of papyrus) and “volume” is from the Latin for a rolled-up thing — a scroll, which is the form most texts took until they were replaced by folded parchment codices. Prior to the late 13th century, when paper was first brought to Europe from China, the great works of Western civilization were recorded on the skins of animals. The Inca wrote by knotting strings. The ancient Chinese scrawled calligraphy on cliffs. (Do mountains count as books?) The printed, paper book, as we know it, dates only to the mid-fifteenth century, but those early Gutenberg exemplars were hardly something you’d curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The book as an affordable object of mass production — as something directly kin to the books that line our shelves — was not born until the 19th century, just in time for the early announcements of its death.”

Found via The Second Pass

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