“Book Talk on the History of Books”
Season 01, Episode 02
In this book talk episode, Nicki shares a few book titles on the subject of the history of books.
History of Books – Reading List on Bookshop.org
Mentions & Further Reading
Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years by Tom Standage
From Gutenberg to Google: The History of Our Future by Tom Wheeler
A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page Over Seven Centuries By Henry Notaker
“Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy” by Gennie Gebhart, et. al. of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Connect & Support
Exploring story in a time of collapse
Signup for Updates – at nickiswonderlist.com
Buy Books – from our storefront on Bookshop.org
@nickiswonderlist on Instagram
Hello, welcome to Nicki’s Wonder List, a podcast about exploring story in a time of collapse. I’m Nicki Youngsma
In today’s book talk episode, I’ll be talking about a few titles that I’ve read about a particular subject. And today that happens to be the history of books.
[Music fade out]
So a couple different things have helped point me to this particular subject. The first one I’ll speak to is my own personal genealogy research.
As a descendants of European settlers and someone who lives on stolen land, I’ve been processing like, you know what that means. And part of that is like learning how I got to be here. What is the story that describes how I got here that started off as like a summer research project that just never ended for like years and like will never end.
And part of that, learning about that severance is a process. It feels like it’s really hard to clarify and find out what’s the context and like why they left the land, that they had an ancestral relationship with. Part of my observation is the timeframes in which people became severed from land in Europe during the end of the middle ages, up through the reformation and the Renaissance.
And like, there are really big shifts in how society was organized. And so one of the things that happens in that timeframe when the severance happens, Or was happening is the printing of books and like the development of the Gutenberg printing press. So like that information revolution is a thing that happens at the same time.
And then a second part of it, um, of how I arrive to this topic is I have two young kids and I read a lot of kids books and there’s some great ones out there and there’s like a ton of terrible one. If I wanna teach my kids something people, a lot of times recommend the book to help you learn how to teach or have this conversation with kids.
And there’s a part of me that is like really grateful for that. Like I love books and I, I learn so much from children’s books too. It’s a really great way to like tell a story and convey information and to learn and to enjoy. And like, I don’t wanna dismiss that. There is also a piece to this that is like, Why isn’t it that I don’t know how to do X, Y, or Z.
And that might be like really important, like foundational information. I don’t know how to do that. And I don’t know who to ask. I know books haven’t existed for like all of eternity there, you know, and like, but I, I need books and like, why do I need to go to a. to get something that’s like vital information.
And, uh, I guess I just think of children’s books because it’s just like, things are so rudimentary. You know, there’s potty training, talking about feelings and like emotional regulation. Body safety, creating cultures of consent, boundary, setting these things, at least for my upbringing and cultural surrounding like that.
Doesn’t really like feel interwoven into the social fabric. You have to go to a book and if the book doesn’t exist about a thing, then you can’t get that information. and if you can’t access the book, that’s like another element to this is access to books. Those are two ways in which I’ve arrived at this research question is what exactly is the history of books.
And what does that look.
So the first title I’m talking about today is called The Book by Amaranth Borusk. I found this book from a reference librarian. Whenever I have a research question, I just email the library because my local library has that feature and it’s like on their website and it is super easy.
So if you don’t use your library, like you should learn about how to use the library. Because libraries are amazing and reference libraries usually wanna help you. I think that’s been my experience. Anyhow, I got this recommendation from a reference librarian when I had asked for book recommendations and yeah, I read the physical book and it’s cute.
Like it’s not a big book by any means. And it has a lot of pull quotes, um, that are interspersed with the book. I really appreciate this book because I feel like it holds a lot of information. It’s very concise. It’s divided into like four parts. And it talks about the book as an object, as content, as an idea.
And as an interface, I like how it’s broken up that way. and some things I thought were interesting that I find helpful is this book talks a little bit more about Johanna Gutenberg and the actual way his press worked. Like he didn’t invent press making by any means, but he integrated different techniques and created his own design.
And then he convinced people to fund his project. That was like a big piece of. So this offers some like illustrations and information into how the press actually worked. Another thing that I just, I really love about this book is, um, just gives the history in a nutshell of books in their forms, technically a book as an object per se, is something that contains information.
There’s an illustration that shows books and their different forms. So that can be a scroll, a kipu, a clay tablet. In modernity When people think of books, what they’re thinking of as a codex. So this book talks about what needed to happen for the codex to be created. And the development of paper is a big part of that.
Yeah, I feel like I wish I knew this book existed, cuz it gives some really good context for what books are, because I’ve learned how to make books. And when I learned how to make books, this information was like, never talked about, it was like, oh, we’re gonna practice this book binding method and we’re gonna practice this stitch.
And here’s the signature, you know? I had all this information thrown at me with no understanding of what exactly I was doing. This provides information for understanding wired books constructed in certain ways and has to with materials. Another thing that I appreciated about this book is the book talks about the development of copyright and intellectual property, which I can never really wrap my head around it.
So, yeah. So this is a fun book for that information.
The next thing I’ll talk about is called Writing on the wall: Social media, the first 2000 years by Tom Standage. I also got this book recommendation from a reference librarian. The book goes through a chronology. So to say of how decentralized information sharing has looked in the last 2000 years, and particularly focusing on like Europe and then the United States, that’s the scope of this.
I include this title, even though social media isn’t necessarily books. It relates a lot in the ways that books are objects in which information gets shared and can be through decentralized networks. I think out of all, the ones that I’m talking about today is at least for me, the dentists, just because there’s a lot of different time periods, the authors going through.
Another thing that I thought was interesting in this book is that. Part of what led mark and Luther to be so successful is that he exploited the immediate environment of his time. And of course the printing press allowed that to facilitate the dissemination of his work. Thinking about this work in terms of books is the early Christians and the church.
Part of their success in creating their own information networks and then expanding has to do with the reliance on written communication. And then also switching from Papyrus scrolls to the Kodaks. Another thing about this book, the overall arching theme is that social media is like not a new thing.
It’s actually like a very old thing. There has been a departure from that. It’s only the 20th century. That communication becomes centralized through radio and television. The rebirth of social media starts with the internet and email blogging, social media sites. I felt like this book helped give me, you know, some perspective in thinking about the ways in which people have been communicating peer to peer for a long time and longer than the scope of this book.
The next book I’m gonna talk about is called from Gutenberg to Google: the history of our future by Tom wheel. I came across this book either. It was like on the like staff picks at the library, or I heard an interview with the author on the radio. I feel like I remember that, but I’m not sure.
With this book, I’ll start off by saying there’s a lot about this book that I don’t like, and I’ll get to that but the parts that I do like, and that I think are worth talking about, or at least I took away thinking about is how they draw connections between really big shifts in how information network infrastructure works.
And the author goes through chronologically, starting with the Gutenberg printing press, then talks about steam engine. Telegraph telephone, and then start to talk about digital communications and the internet. And I feel like this book was really helpful in like breaking down things that are very technical and making it digestible.
So I appreciated it in that way. It was written in a way where it was like, it felt really simple, but I kept reading and I felt like I, you know, I was understanding it like us following along. I really enjoyed learning more about telegraphs and, you know, Morse code and how that works. I found it easy to understand the context of the inventions and that in these network, revolutions and innovation happens and there’s a breakdown of information into really small parts into like the smallest parts.
So yeah, the things that I don’t like about the book. There’s just like a lot of turnoffs for me, the language is imperialist, but it’s just like, oh, of course, like, why should I be surprised? So the author is the former FCC chairman. Other parts with the book that just turned me off is just the fact that the author talks about how in this current system.
Data is an asset created by the networks. And like, that’s just fine and dandy and like big data’s. Okay. And we need to just roll with it. We need to keep gathering data, especially unlike children working in the classroom. This is written before COVID when like distance learning and virtual learning like came into being and like different kinds of technology and software surveil children, and like collected data.
He doesn’t use that language, but to gather data about children in the C. if there’s not like oversight or law is about what to do with that information that starts to get like dystopian really fast. God, I just, you know, is reading that section where it’s like about compulsory schooling. He talks about like the education system that we use is designed for like factory work, where we have to like, think about the digital world and like train the kids to do those jobs.
And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get know to do jobs, but these just so matter of fact about that’s what we need to be doing for kids, making sure they turn into workers, you know, so they can plug into the workforce, forget actually giving people what they need to live. Or learn things that are fulfilling or meaningful.
We just need to make sure we turn them into workers, you know, and this is how we’re gonna accomplish that. And it’s just like really gross. So anyhow, that’s just my list of turnoffs about this book, but that has some things I got some value out of. So I wanted to share it today. The last title I’ll talk about today, it’s called A history of cookbooks: from a kitchen to page over seven centuries by Henry Notaker. So this book is interesting because I did find it from a reference library again um, and it wasn’t something that I was looking for, but I’m glad that I found it. What I was looking for was information or like articles or books about ancestral food. So this is again, part of my personal genealogy research about finding connections to ancestral.
You know, ancestral people and stories and language, uh, plants and foods, practices, all those things. And so foods was one of those that I decided to investigate. I didn’t get what I, I was hoping to get back in that particular research query. This book is interesting because, okay. So first of all, it’s boring.
I definitely skimmed it. It’s interesting. There’s a lot of information. it talks about cookbooks as a genre and how there’s not at least when this book was written and published. The study of cookbooks as a genre was in its infancy. Like people really haven’t at least people who study books and historians haven’t really thought about studying cookbooks much.
And so this person decided to write a book about it. And this also follows a little bit of a historical chronology. Also starting with preprinting press and cookbooks didn’t really exist. At least there aren’t a lot of records of that. The author talks about this in the book where recipes are found in writing.
Sometimes they’re in a poem form. Cookbooks. Aren’t really a genre until the advent of mass printing. And that’s enabled by gin, birds, printing, press. And part of that is because there’s an element of literacy, like cooks, generally weren’t literate and recipe sharing was done orally. Then there’s also an element too of there might have been rules about it in trade guilds.
Recipes begin to be written down after the advent of the printing press in a few different ways. And, and one of those has to do with the monarchies, wanting to outdo each other. And cooking is a way to display wealth. The countries that have the wealth. Because their colonial powers are the ones who can afford to print the cookbooks.
So like France, for instance, like French cuisine is something that still lingers as being something people worldwide are fascinated with. And a lot of that has to do with. Access to capital to print the books during this time. And also just how that feeds into colonial projects. Like people would take cookbooks that were written in colonizer languages, and they were brought along with two colonies, which I find to be interesting and also telling about like cookbooks and cooking and how we think about cuisine.
There is also an element to where people don’t begin to write down the recipes until maybe like the 19th century, because they need money because it just, as the development of the publishing industry kinds to take shape, people can make money doing that. Another thing that this book makes me think about in context to my greater question of how do books shift from like oral culture to literate society.
In Europe, my ancestors underwent a transition of severance from culture and land and language and life ways. And I feel like the notion of cookbook illustrates that to me because recipes weren’t written down, they’re spoken aloud. And then if you don’t like tell the stories anymore, or you don’t like have that be a part of your practice.
And then you shift to seek out something in a book and, and no one ever wrote it down. So it’s like, it makes sense that finding those kinds of recipes or like ways of cooking, you know, they are lost or they are inaccessible. At least to me, there’s a sobering element. That just is another interesting piece for me.
So essentially this book answered the question of why I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I feel like the takeaway from me when I think about these titles together. And what I’ve talked to today is that I just appreciate how complicated our relationship is to this technology. I know I love books and I find them to be very helpful.
I find that medium is something that really works for me in a lot of contexts, but certainly not for everyone and not for me all the time, either. There are some really incredible opportunities and advantages to sharing. Information and stories and expression through this format, but it’s certainly not the only way in which we can do that.
[Music fade in]
If any of these titles peak your interest, then go to the show notes, to buy books through the Nicki’s Wonder List storefront on Bookshop.org. Purchasing through this storefront means you’ll be supporting authors, independent book sellers, and this podcast.
Thank you for listening to Nicki’s Wonder List. Until next time.
[Music fade out]