September 6th is National Read A Book Day: But Where Did Your Book Come From?

September 6th is National Read A Book day. Regardless of the number of books you’ve read throughout the course of your lifetime, did you ever wonder how the book you’re holding in your hands was printed?

Whether you prefer a good old paper back book or you’ve hopped onto the e-book craze, it’s normal to wonder how printing became a staple to the book industry. Johannes Gutenberg is famous for inventing the printing press somewhere around the year 1440.

Gutenberg printed what is known to be the first book printed, “The Holy Bible” or The Gutenberg Bible soon after. However, in 2001, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated that Jikji, a Korean book said to have been printed in 1377 is the worlds first printed book.

While we may never know for a fact the name of the first printed book, as we do know, writing itself has been the catalyst for many inventions since the beginning of time- the printing press being one of the most important.

The first language that historians are aware of is known as cuneiform, and it was said to have appeared first around 3400 BC near present day Iraq. Cuneiform began as a language of pictures and symbols, similar to hieroglyphics, with the earliest writings done on slabs of clay.

Fast forward to 2100 BC, when the first known fragments of the first book were written. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a mythological account of the historical figure, Gilgamesh, a Sumerian City ruler, was said to have been written In fragments between 2000 and 1700 BC.

From what we know, the most completed version was written between 1500 and 1200 BC, however, scholars still believe it could have even been written earlier. The Epic of Gilgamesh can be read on paper or as an e-book. The only remaining copy of Gilgamesh on a clay tablet remains in the British Museum.

Throughout the years, however, the term “book” has become much more flexible. Books used to be defined as a collection of sheets printed on paper and bound together between two covers. With the invention of the e-book, the true definition of a book has been changing as the days go on.

It may almost be safe to conclude that reading a story on a Kindle can be considered almost synonymous with reading stories on clay tablets.

In America, no one is quite sure of the first book written and printed. However, the oldest book known to the Western Hemisphere is a manuscript titled Dresden Codex written on Maya fig bark. The Whole Book of Psalmes, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts is said to be the first ever printed book in America in 1640. Only 11 original copies still exist today.

Nowadays, it is common to hear the names of other books or fragments of books that are said to have been printed before The Gutenberg Bible. Regardless, the impact the printing industry has had on the written word is outstanding, to say the least.

For National Read A Book Day, pick up a copy of your favorite book. Flip through it. Skim the pages with your fingertips. Take notice to the smell, the feeling. And remember that once upon a time, a long, long time ago, something as disposable as a “book” didn’t always exist.

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