A Book about the Book

A must read, must own

By Leslie Clague

I recently finished reading a book entitled  The Book Actually, the full title is The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of our Time The author is Keith Houston. If you are a lover of books and reading, I think this is a must read.

It tells the history of the book as an artefact, an object. It gives clearly the technical and engineering principles that create it.

It also relates some delightful stories and humorous anecdotes as it takes you through the journey of the book’s development. (I never knew the financial difficulties of Gutenberg in the creation of his Bible.)

Divided into sections on book components

It is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1, The Page
  • Part 2, The Text
  • Part 3, Illustrations
  • Part 4, Form
Author Keith Houston

Each part tells the history and stories of these components of a book, enriching one’s perspective and appreciation of this tool.

Part 1 traces from papyrus to today’s paper, originally from China.

Part 2 goes from hand-written to type, to moveable type and then lithography, plus more.

Part 3 is similar.

And in Part 4 there is the intricate folding, massaging, cutting of paper and then putting it all together to keep.

There are also extensive notes, bibliography and index to the back.

Quality design and paper

The publisher of the book is W. W. Norton & Company. A lot of work has gone into the book’s design to better reflect the contents. Subtle illustrations convey the language of books, from “imprints”, to “subtitle” to “dingbat.”

The paper quality is excellent and the binding of the pages is particularly impressive, as the pages open almost flat.

Interestingly the author, age 40 and living in London, works in IT during the day, designing medical imaging software. He has another book published on a similar topic:  Shady Characters: the secret life of punctuation.  

I got the book out at my local Turangi Library. I think so much of it, I have now ordered it online. For me, a retired librarian, it is a must own.

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