C. S. Lewis on Reading Well, Part 1

I have learned that whenever C. S. Lewis weighs in on a subject, I’d better pay attention. He’s not always right, of course, but he is always wise and thought provoking. This is true of everything that Lewis wrote on anything. But when it comes to Lewis writing about reading—an activity he devoted his entire life to—you’d better believe he has some profound things to say.

In this series of posts, I’m going to explore some of the things that Lewis says about reading well in his book An Experiment in Criticism. If you’re at all interested in Literature or even art in general, you should really just pick up the book. In any case, here are some of the highlights.


Good & Bad Readers

C. S. Lewis begins by distinguishing between good readers and bad readers. The difference, Lewis says, is less about which books they read and more about how and why they read those books.


The Unliterary

A poor reader—whom Lewis terms “the unliterary man”—doesn’t read books. He uses them:

“The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.”[1]

It’s not even a matter of retaining what has been read. If this person’s eyes have passed over the words on the page, it is enough. Lewis describes a person standing in a library for 30 minutes, flipping through a book, trying to decide whether or not she has already read it. But once she decides she’s read the book, she discards it and looks for a different book to read:

“It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it.”[2]

What Lewis is describing is a person who reads books with no appreciation for what the book is, how it was written, how it functions, how it might speak to him and transform him. In our cinematic culture, this person would never waste time on a book if it’s been adapted for film.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like you. After all, if you’re reading this blog, you’re not entirely averse to reading. But even if you wouldn’t class yourself as “unliterary,” you’re not necessarily off the hook. Lewis adds a couple of other poor readers to the list.


The Status Seeker

The status seeker reads for reputation. She follows all of the trends of literary fashion, reading only those things deemed at the moment to be in good taste. And she reads them in order to say she’s read them, to be able to discuss them with the right people. This person will read books, but Lewis would not call her a good reader.

I’ll go ahead and admit that this one’s convicting. Anyone else?

But don’t worry. It actually gets worse. Lewis adds another category of poor reader to the list: the devotee of culture. This one will takes a little longer to unpack, and I’ve already said enough for one post, so we’ll look at this misguided approach to reading tomorrow. But let me just say that this category hits the closest to home for me.

[1] C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961) 2.

[2] Ibid., 2.




Posted: July 29, 2013




Posted in education, My Book Shelf, reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Does It Take So Long? Book Publishing from Conception to Publication By Jocelyn Green

Every once in a while, someone will ask me why, for the love of new releases, does it take so long for my next book to come out? After all, I turned A Refuge Assured (link is external) into the publisher (the first time) on March 6, 2017. It releases Feb. 6, 2018. Eleven months in between? What gives?

The process varies according to author and publisher, so I will just speak to my own experience, and I’ll use A Refuge Assured and the team at Bethany House as an example because it’s freshest on my mind. This is how it all went down.

May 2016: I start brainstorming ideas for the next novel with Bethany House. And then I stop, because I have a novella to write that’s due to Barbour July 1.

September 2016: I talk to my editors about my plot ideas and start gathering research. Then I stop, because I need to write Free to Lean: Making Peace with Your Lopsided Life for Discovery House that’s due the first week of November.

November 2016: Now that Free to Lean is turned in, I start writing A Refuge Assured.

The process of writing a rough draft isn’t glamorous. It’s a whole lot of hours with my laptop, surrounded by my research books. Usually I’m wearing flannel pants and cardigan sweaters because I live in Iowa and my second-floor office in our lovely old house is COLD in the winter. (Yes I have a space heater, which helps.)

SIDENOTE: In January, I must divide my time between writing and launching The Mark of the King, which involves lots of guest blogging, mailings to influencers, interviews, and general social media frenzy. Then March 1, it’s time to launch The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection. But really, writing needs to remain my top prriority. Even though these don’t relate to A Refuge Assured, I’m mentioning them to give you a sense of what many authors experience–we are usually juggling some aspect of more than one project at a time. Writing one book, launching another, editing a different one. (Between Dec. 21 and Feb. 21, I was also working on edits for Free to Lean with my Discovery House editor.)

March 6, 2017: I turn in A Refuge Assured. I don’t feel great about it, either, by the way. I even include notes at the end of the manuscript asking my editor questions about plot and characters, and issues I know I need to fix. Ugh. I wanted to turn in something a lot more polished than this.

March 8-15, 2017: My family goes on a spring break trip that includes site visits related to A Refuge Assured, including Philadelphia and the site of the French settlement of Azilum (Asylum in English). I use this trip to fact check my research, knowing that I can make changes to the novel in the coming months of editing as needed. There was just no way to squeeze this trip in between November and now anyway.

The highlight of Philadelphia was City Tavern (link is external), a restored eighteenth-century restaurant that’s actually part of the Independence Hall National Historic Park. I loved it, because in my novel, the hero’s sister owns a tavern in Philly, and there are several scenes set there.

The other major feature of our trip was three hours by car north of Philadelphia: French Azilum (link is external). It wasn’t open for the season yet, but the board of directors was kind enough to send someone to meet me there anyway. It gave me a sense of atmosphere and place that I couldn’t get from reading books and Web sites alone.

March 21, 2017: Home again, and I get “The Memo.” The Memo is the several page document my two editors put together after they’ve read and discussed my manuscript. It starts off with what they like about it, and then proceeds to describe the areas I need to work on. I also receive my manuscript back, with a few comments in the margins, but at this point we’re doing a developmental edit, aka content edit, so the changes are big. A few examples from The Memo:

  • For more than half the book, we have two separate storylines. They do converge, but we’d like them to link up much sooner.
  • The parallels between the whiskey rebellion and the French Revolution might need to be stronger or more explicit, perhaps. [The other editor] got it and was fine, but I was left feeling a little confused that characters kept equating them. A way to draw out the parallels in an argument or conversation?
  • We’d like to increase the threat and sense of danger from the Jacobins, as well as develop the progression of the question of Henri’s identity so that it steadily builds rather than goes in circles, which it kind of does right now.

So as you can see, this is pretty big picture stuff. The Memo went on to point out areas in the characters that could use further development. It’s all really, really helpful, but there’s no quick fix for any of it. That’s why they give me two months to make the changes. It sounds like plenty of time, and it is, in fact, quite generous. But it will still be a big push to get it done.

March 24, 2017: Phone call with my editor to go over The Memo and hash out the issues which aren’t so easy to resolve over email. Should Finn die? Should he live? What would happen to Liam if he died? If he lives, how can he be a more crucial part of the story? That kind of thing.

Also during the two months I’m working on content edits, I send the novel in chunks to my critique partner since I didn’t have time to do that before I turned it in the first time. She points out things that my editors and I didn’t notice. For instance, a few character names sounded too similar, so we changed some to avoid potential confusion. And in a few scenes, there were too many characters for the reader to keep track of, so I deleted some.

May 5, 2017: I get my first look at the cover design for A Refuge Assured. Beautiful work, Bethany House team! They need the cover finalized this far ahead of release, because in June, the sales team will be pitching the Spring 2018 releases to buyers for bookstores and chains. After the sales conference, the cover goes up on all the online retail sites for pre-order. Meanwhile, I’m still working on edits!

June 3, 2017: I turn in the novel with content edits complete. (I missed my May 31 deadline, BTW. They gave me an extension over the weekend.)

June 21, 2017: I receive the mansucript back again with line edits and a three-page document of notes from my editor. Line edits mean that now that the big picture stuff is taken care of, she has gone through every line, tightening up and fixing whatever needed it. The separate document of notes, this time, was pretty minor stuff (i.e. my Irish accent for Liam sounded Scottish, so she fixed that throughout) and her thoughtful responses to my flurry of emails over the last two months. I love my editor. She is the best. Her perspective on the book is very reassuring and I feel better about life in general.

[Insert launching activities for Free to Lean during the first part of July here.]

July 31, 2017: I turn in A Refuge Assured again. In addition to responding to all of my editor’s requests for revisions, I’d made a list of all the phrases and words I used too much, and worked really hard to swap them out with something else. Apparently, all the men cleared their throats a lot, and the women “inhaled deeply.” Ha! Searches for the words eyes, look, gaze, glance, etc. revealed way too much dependence on eyes. So I spent a long time rewriting those beats, and I’m really pleased with the results. Oh, also gave personality tests to my main characters to make sure they were consistent in how they were behaving. #MyersBriggsForever Found a couple spots to adjust.

At this point, my editor sends the book to the copy editor. The copy editor reads it and makes sure the timeline matches up, that the characters have the same eye and hair color throughout the book, she fact checks my historical references, etc. So, it’s a lot more than a spelling and grammar checker.

August 25, 2017: I receive the book in paper form on my doorstep! This stage is called the galleys edit. The book has been printed out entirely, and I have two or three weeks to go over it with a fine-tooth comb to make any changes. I try to read it out loud as much as I can, because my eyes can be lazy and skim, but my ears will pick up on something if it sounds not right.

I work on it a lot from home, but there are a few distractions…

I take the galleys with me wherever I go if I think I’ll have time to work on them. Mostly I’m deleting unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, catching a few anachronistic words that had slipped through the cracks, and deleting anything that seems dumb. Pictured below from left to right: My favorite tea place (link is external), car dealership for an oil change, doctor’s office for my son’s check-up, karate class. I will edit here and there, I will edit everywhere! 🙂

September 5, 2017: I realize I should probably request endorsements for this book! Bethany House tells me they would need endorsements by early October, so that really doesn’t leave much time. I humbly petition Laura Frantz (link is external) and Susan Meissner (link is external) for endorsements, and they both agree. WHEW. Bethany House prints off new sets of the galleys and ships them out to Laura and Susan pronto.

As it happens, I had the privilege of meeting both of these ladies in person this past summer! So much fun.

September 28, 2017: All of my changes have been made, and now the interior pages have been designed as well. Bethany House has printed the entire novel again and shipped it to me for final, final changes. This is called the final galleys edit. At this point, I should hardly have anything to mark up. I do find a few things to change, but overall, I am ready to be done reading this book. I am, however, thrilled with how the pages look. The touches of lace and the small lace fans as scene breaks are gorgeous. At the same time I’m reading it, so is a proofreader at Bethany House. Maybe even more than one proofreader. Fresh eyes are a must, and mine are anything but.

October 6, 2017: I send the final galleys back to Bethany House. Next time I see the book, it will be the finished product, probably sometime in January! By now, the endorsers have sent their lines in, as well. So as far as I’m concerned, I am DONE with the book, at least until closer to the launch.

But the team at Bethany House sure isn’t. Fiction publicist Amy Green wrote two blogs for Just Commonly from her perspective, which you can read in their entirety here (link is external)and here (link is external). While I’m creating memes and a Pinterest board for A Refuge Assured to prepare for its release, here’s what the publisher is doing, according to Amy:

  • Final changes are made to the text file
  • Electronic files of text and cover are sent to printer
  • Electronic files sent for ebook conversion
  • Printer sends final proofs to publisher for approval
  • Ebook file is sent to publisher for approval
  • Book is printed, bound, and shipped to publisher’s warehouse

Amy and Noelle, the fiction marketing manager, are really busy behind the scenes while all of this is going on, too. In the spring, they presented the next season of books to the sales team, who then pitched the books to buyers at the sales conference in June. Six to eight months before a release, Noelle works on placing ads and setting up special campaigns, i.e. a book club mailing. Amy pitches the book to trade and consumer magazines, all of which need time to decide if they’ll feature or review a book in their publication–and then of course, they’ll need time to read it. Amy and Noelle do a lot more than this, but I’ll let you read those blog posts I linked to earlier to get the full run-down.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of why it takes so long to publish a book. Thanks for reading to the end of this post–even explaining it took a long time! Did anything surprise you?

Now, I get to start the process all over again for the next novel!



About the Author:

Jocelyn Green is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books, including fiction and nonfiction. A former military wife herself, she offers encouragement and hope to military wives through her Faith Deployed books and The 5 Love Languages Military Edition, which she co-authored with best-selling author Dr. Gary Chapman. Her Heroines Behind the Lines Civil War novels, inspired by real heroines on America’s home front, are marked by their historical integrity and gritty inspiration. As a speaker, Jocelyn inspires faith and courage in her audiences. Jocelyn graduated from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, with a B.A. in English, concentration in writing. She is an active member of the Christian Authors Network, the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Military Writers Society of America. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, Toblerone chocolate bars, the color red, and reading on her patio. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two children in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Visit her at www.jocelyngreen.com.

Posted: November  3, 2017



Posted in education, words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Insider Magazine: A baseball hero’s heroes by Jill Painter

(A version of this story originally appeared in the ninth edition of the 2017 Dodger Insider Magazine.)


Every home game during the middle of the second inning, the Dodgers recognize a member of the armed forces near the Dodgers dugout as the “Military Hero of the Game.” Their accomplishments are noted on DodgerVision, fans stand and applaud and then the serviceman or servicewoman walks by the Dodger dugout on the way up the stairs to his or her seat.

Almost every game, that military person is stopped by Justin Turner, who reaches over the railing for an emotional greeting.

It’s one of the most touching parts of every Dodgers game that one can’t see on the television broadcast, since it happens during commercial breaks.

(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

“The least I can do is go over there and shake their hand and tell them thank you for their service, especially all they do for us,” Turner says. “We get to come out here and play a game we love. I was probably inspired a lot by (former Dodger) A.J. Ellis. He did it a lot when he was here. I’m just continuing it on, making sure they know we appreciate what they do, not just send them on the field and wave. I’m just trying to take it a little further.”

It’s a heartwarming symbol from Turner, who’s often joined by teammate Joc Pederson.

“We’re extremely fortunate. Those people put their lives on the line for our freedom,” Pederson says. “They’re the real heroes, and a lot more heroic than us. It’s the least we can do.”

The reaction from those greetings and accompanying words is always similar in nature. Turner is taken aback by the response.

“It’s ironic how every single time, without a doubt, they say, ‘Thank you so much,’” Turner says. “It blows me away they’re thanking me and saying, ‘You’re my favorite,’ or, ‘You’re my hero.’ I’m nothing. They are the ones who are the real heroes and the ones who are putting their lives on the line.”

The men and women who are honored on the field are moved by the tribute from fans and players such as Turner, who show an extra indebtedness.

“It’s really special treatment, knowing that he’s willing to take the time to appreciate us like that,” says U.S. Navy Lt. Peter Vapor, who is stationed in Port Hueneme and from Camarillo and was one of the Dodgers’ military heroes of the game.

Turner, who’s long had a generous nature about him, started the Justin Turner Foundation to help others. Specifically, the foundation benefits three charitable efforts, including one for homeless veterans. His Justin Turner Golf Classic benefits homeless veterans at the Dream Center L.A.

“We couldn’t do this without Justin and his support financially, but also his support as a person,” says Clint Carlton, Turner’s friend and director of public relations for the Dream Center. “That’s important, too. A lot of people just write a check. Justin is one who puts his feet on the ground and is in the battle with us.”

The Dream Center L.A. houses 26 male veterans. Turner is helping to launch a women’s floor for the veteran program in November.

(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

“For the Dream Center to open this program and take in these guys is great,” Turner says. “They’re doing it to help these guys readjust to society. A lot of them enlist right out of high school and might not have the education they need to get a job. Some might not have finished high school. The program is set up to have them finish high school and give them a chance to get a college degree and give them job training, interview training, communication skills and help them get back out in society where they can be on their feet and sustain a normal life on their own.”

One of Turner’s best friends was in the Air Force and now works in the Pentagon. His job, and so many others’ work in the military, fascinates Turner, who says he often watches military documentaries on team flights and is captivated by the Navy SEALs.

“Our sports psychologist works with the Navy SEALs. He’s got a background working with the armed forces,” Turner says. “The conversations I have with him are kind of cool, because it’s about teams, goals and missions and how to accomplish your goals, whatever that mission is. Obviously, it’s on a lot smaller scale and a lot less dangerous. We’re kind of in the same area. It’s a team and you work together and you have goals. How you achieve your goals, how you rely on each other, how you trust each other — there are some similarities between the two.”

(Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

In the heat of battle on the baseball field, Turner pauses every game. And his hope is that others follow suit and pause whatever they’re doing to recognize true heroes.

“The appreciation is the biggest thing, what they’re giving up and sacrificing,” Turner says. “It’s about what they’re putting their families through to protect our freedoms and our rights. Hopefully, everyone sees it and next time they go by someone or see someone, they take a second to stop and shake their hand.”

Posted in Current Events, History, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Owe You Our Freedom–Thank You

Posted in Constitution Corner, Current Events, History, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing Advice from Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen King, and William Faulkner


“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” ― Madeleine L’Engle


“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.” ― William Faulkner


Stephen King Writing Tips

“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” ― Stephen King



Posted: July 19, 2013

Posted in education, reading, words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acquainted with Grief: How God Draws Near to Sutherland Springs By John Piper

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize . . . but one who in every respect has been tested as we are. (Hebrews 4:15)

Mass murder is why Jesus came into the world the way he did. What kind of Savior do we need when our hearts are shredded by brutal loss?

We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.

And that is how he came. He knew what this world needed. Not a comedian. Not a sports hero. Not a movie star. Not a political genius. Not a doctor. Not even a pastor. The world needed what no mere man could be.

The world needed a suffering Sovereign. Mere suffering would not do. Mere sovereignty would not do. The one is not strong enough to save; the other is not weak enough to sympathize.

So he came as who he was: the compassionate King. The crushed Conqueror. The lamb-like Lion. The suffering Sovereign.

Now he comes to Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The God who draws near to Sutherland Springs is the suffering, sympathetic God-man, Jesus Christ. No one else can feel what he has felt. No one else can love like he can love. No one else can heal like he can heal. No one else can save like he can save.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Reading the Bible Supernaturally.
Posted in Devotional, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Oldest Treasures From 12 Great Libraries by Sarah Laskow

We asked some of our favorite libraries: What’s the oldest item in your collection?

When you start to think about the oldest books that a library might hold, there are any number of rabbit holes you can fall down. What’s the oldest book in any particular city? What’s the oldest book in the world? Well, what do you mean by “book”? The oldest written text? The oldest manuscript? The oldest printed material? The oldest bound book?

Librarians take these kinds of questions very seriously, so when Atlas Obscura contacted some of our favorite libraries to ask about the oldest books in their collections, we were treated to a wealth of information about the treasures they hold.

The New York Public Library, for instance, has not only cuneiform tablets and ninth-century gospels, but also a Gutenberg Bible and a copy of The Bay Psalm Book, one of the oldest books printed in America. In addition to its own cuneiform tablets and Gutenberg Bible, the Library of Congress holds one of the oldest examples of printing in the world, passages from a Buddhist sutra, printed in A.D. 770, as well as a medieval manuscript from 1150, delightfully titled Exposicio Mistica Super Exod.

In the history of writing, bound books as we know them today arrive fairly late, so there are no actual “books” on this list. Instead, this is a wondrous collection of illuminated manuscripts, papyrus scrolls, and clay tablets. Some of these items you can even see in person, if you pay a visit.

<em>De re culinaria</em>.
De re culinaria. Courtesy of The New York Academy of Medicine Library

New York Academy of Medicine

Apicius, De re culinaria

Created: A.D. 830, Germany


Synopsis: The earliest surviving cookbook in the West, this Latin manuscript contains recipes that date all the way back to the fourth century B.C. These were recipes meant for average Roman households, although they included non-native spices that would have had to travel far to reach the Mediterranean. Some of the highlights, according to the library, are “roast lamb with coriander, deep-fried honey fritters, and cucumber with mint dressing.”

Provenance: The manuscript was originally created in a German monastery in the ninth century. It was later held in Rome and then Paris, where it was sold in 1824 to noted bibliomaniac Sir Thomas Phillipps. From Phillipps, it went to Margaret Barclay Wilson, a teacher and librarian, who donated her extensive collection of cookbooks and medicinal recipe books to the New York Academy of Medicine in 1929.

Viaticum. College of Physicians

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Constantinus Africanus, Viaticum

Created: No later than 1244, Italy

Synopsis: In the 10th century A.D., Ibn al-Jazzar, an Muslim physician, wrote a book titled Provisions for the Traveler and the Nourishment of the Settled, a compendium of the medical knowledge of the day, which focused on the interaction of humours and elements in the human body. A few decades later, Constantinus traveled from North Africa to a monastery in southern Italy, where he adapted and translated Ibn al-Jazzar’s work into Latin.

Provenance: A reader in 1429 made notes in the margins. By the 16th or 17th century the book had a new and still unidentified owner, who added chapter titles. It later passed through the hands of booksellers in Lugano, Switzerland, to the College of Physicians library.

Herculaneum scrolls.
Herculaneum scrolls. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Bodleian Library

Ash-Preserved Papyrus

Created: Before A.D. 79, Herculaneum, Italy

Synopsis: When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the first century A.D., it covered the town of Herculaneum in ash, gas, and other volcanic material that preserved organic matter for hundreds of years. These carbonized papyrus scrolls came from the town’s library. Archaeologists have struggled to find a way to read the damaged scrolls, so there’s little known about their contents—though progress is being made with advanced imaging techniques.

Provenance: These scrolls were discovered in Herculaneum in 1750s. In 1810, George, Prince of Wales, received 18 of them and presented four to the library in Oxford as a gift.

Codex Sinaiticus.*
Codex Sinaiticus.* Andrey Nekrasov / Alamy Stock Photo

St. Catherine’s Monastery

Codex Sinaiticus

Created: A.D. 330–60, possibly Rome, Italy

Synopsis: A handwritten version of a Greek Bible, the codex is one of the oldest copies known today, and the oldest surviving version of the complete New Testament.

Provenance: The codex was kept in St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt before the wider scholarly world came to know about it in 1844, when a scholar removed 43 folios from the monastery library. Parts of the codex are now kept at four different libraries, but St. Catherine’s still holds a small fraction of the work—12 pages and 24 fragments.

<em>Historia Plantarum</em>.
Historia Plantarum. Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Theophrastus, Historia Plantarum

Created: 1483, Treviso, Italy

Synopsis: Back in the third century B.C., Theophrastus, one of the first botanists of the Western world, set out to catalogue the the plants of ancient Greece and created the first known classifications of plants in his part of the world. He covered a range of trees, shurbs, dwarf shrubs, and herbs and examined how they grew and were used in his own time.

Provenance: This Latin translation of the original text was printed in northeast Italy in the 15th century, making it an incunable, or a printed book that predates 1501. In 1664, the then-owner added a title page and doodles that Leora Siegel, the library’s senior director, describes as “a woman’s anatomy, but poorly done.” In the early 20th century, it was owned by an orchid specialist who donated it to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The Botanic Garden purchased the society’s rare book collection in 2002.

<em>De animalibus</em>, title and last pages, including colophon.
De animalibus, title and last pages, including colophon. ©AMNH Library

American Museum of Natural History

Albertus Magnus, De animalibus

Created: 1495, Venice, Italy

Synopsis: Albertus Magnus spent his life studying and commenting on the works of Aristotle. Without his work, much less knowledge of the Greek philosopher would have made it to future generations of scholars. Albertus, who died in 1280 and was later canonized, wrote widely about the scientific and natural worlds. This volume collects his work on the animal kingdom.

Provenance: By the 19th century, the book had entered the holdings of the collection now named the Berlin State Library. The natural history museum in New York bought the book in 1923 from Paul Gottschalk, a German book dealer.

Cuneiform tablet from the Library of Congress.
Cuneiform tablet from the Library of Congress. Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Cuneiform Accounting Tablets

Created: 2050 B.C., Sumeria

Synopsis: The Library of Congress’ oldest written material dates far back, beyond the founding of this nation, to more than 4,000 years ago. The collection of cuneiform tablets dates back to the reign of Gudea of Lagash, in the 2100s B.C. The tablets recorded bills of sale, receipts, ledgers, and other accounting tasks.

Provenance: In 1929, Kirkor Minassian, a dealer of Islamic and Near Eastern art, visited the library and was inspired to send a suite of gifts, which included these tablets.

The Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta. Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library

Magna Carta

Created: Compiled 1325, England

Synopsis: The Magna Carta was the first English statute, but it wasn’t given that name until after 1217, when it started being issued along with the Charter of Forests. To distinguish the original statutes from the forestry code, they were given the name the Great Charter, or the Magna Carta. This copy is in Anglo-Norman, translated from Latin.

Provenance: A note in one leaf indicates that the book was given as a gift in 1821. Henry Clay Folger acquired it from an “E. Williams of Hove” in 1922.

Ancient Egyptian shrine hanging.
Ancient Egyptian shrine hanging. Boston Athanaeum

Boston Athenaeum

Egyptian Artifact Album

Created: circa 1500 B.C., Thebes, Egypt

Synopsis: This book isn’t exactly the oldest book in the Athenaeum’s collection. It was bound in the 1910s and is “more an album of archaeological artifacts than a rare book in the traditional sense,” the library writes. It contains three shrine hangings describing the worship of the goddess Hathor, and a series of inscribed mummy bandages, which are some of the oldest examples of painting on cloth.

Provenance: The artifacts were discovered in 1905 by archaeologist Robert de Rustafjaell, and a bindery in London collected them into a book sometime between 1913 and 1916. The library bought the album that year in Boston, from Goodspeed’s Book Shop.

The <em>Book of the Dead</em> papyrus is almost 20 feet long.
The Book of the Dead papyrus is almost 20 feet long. Austrian National Library

Austrian National Library

Book of the Dead

Created: 15 century B.C., Egypt

Synopsis: Sesostris was a cattle counter and writer in ancient Egypt, and he was well-off enough to own his own copy of the Book of the Dead. In contrast with its name, the book is actually a papyrus scroll, 20-foot long, that contains magical spells to help the recently deceased make their way to the afterlife.

Provenance: The Court Library, the predecessor to the National Library, acquired the papyrus collection of Archduke Rainer in 1899.

Landévennec Gospels illustrations, showing a Celtic influence.
Landévennec Gospels illustrations, showing a Celtic influence. New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Landévennec Gospels

Created: Circa ninth century, Brittany, France

Synopsis: Like the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library’s oldest written material is a collection of cuneiform tablets. Its oldest manuscript, however, is a ninth-century copy of the Gospels, made in a French monastery, but showing Celtic influence in its imagery.

Provenance: The manuscript once belonged to the Marquis of Blandford, fifth Duke of Marlborough. It was later owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps (who also owned the New York Academy of Medicine’s copy of Apicius’s De re culinaria), who passed it to his grandson, FitzRoy Fenwick. A.S.W. Rosenbach bought it in 1926, and its last private owner was one Edward S. Harkness, who donated it to the library as part of a larger gift.

<em>De Virginitate</em>.
De Virginitate. Free Library of Philadelphia

Free Library of Philadelphia

Aldhelm, De Virginitate

Created: Circa 899, England

Synopsis: The oldest written items at the Free Library of Philadelphia are a set of cuneiform tablets—a common theme—but its oldest manuscript is a prose version of De Virginitate, About Virginity. Aldhelm, the Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne, had written this treatise about early virgin martyrs, the value of purity, and its relationship to Christian virtue. This later Latin edition was written in an Anglo-Saxon script.

Provenance: R. Contan gave this book to a new owner in March, 1855. J.F. Lewis acquired it in 1914, before it went to the library.

Correction: The original version of this article showed an image of the Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus, also held by St. Catherine’s Monastery, rather than the Codex Sinaiticus in Greek. The image has been updated.




Posted in education, History, reading, words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment