Tuesday 28 October 2008

Why Age Will Never Wither Nor Custom Stale a Book's Infinite Variety

Have you guys noticed that the new poster girl for the Sony E-reader is no less than Alice in Wonderland herself?

You can watch Alice shrink and enter the Sony eReader on this page.

Cds, ipods and the internet have well and truly killed the vinyl record. The email has practically ended the use of the fax. If even Alice in Wonderland is willing to front a device that may help hasten the demise of the book, then what hope is there? Is this the beginning of the end for the book?


I was at the 18th birthday tea of our lovely young friend, Ati (happy birthday!) where I came face to face with The Reason Why Age Will Never Wither Nor Custom Stale a Book's Infinite Variety.

At the party I met Michael and Linda Falter who are publishers of a kind unlikely to be harrassed by wannabe children's authors.

Michael and Linda publish manuscripts ... ANCIENT manuscripts.

This is the limited facsimile edition of The Rothschild Miscellany,
reproduced here with the kind permission of
Facsimile Editions Limited

Their company is called, appropriately, Facsimile Editions:
Since its foundation in 1981, Facsimile Editions has become world-renowned for reproducing ancient manuscripts with unparalleled accuracy, careful scholarship and meticulous attention to detail.
We've all probably seen illuminated texts in the dusty glass display cases of museums and libraries.

Well, they showed me one of their facsimile editions, the Rothschild Miscellany, and I wanted to weep. Here it was to hold in one's hands, the minute illustrations painstakingly reproduced, the gold hand-tipped, even the worm holes that get progressively smaller as you turn the pages are retained.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I wanted to rub my face against it but that might have been alarming so I focused on not drooling as I gazed upon its pages.

The Miscellany was a collection of "miscellaneous yet connected texts ... illustrating almost every custom of daily life in a Jewish Renaissance household". It was compiled by a wealthy Jew in 1479. My husband describes it (wittily?) as a "rich guy's Daily Me" of the period. You can read more about it here.

Their latest releasd work is the Book of Esther, and I can only urge you to go to this page of their website and click the green arrow buttons to see the scroll unscroll. The story of Esther unfolds from right to left, in intricately illustrated scenes which change progressively as the scroll unrolls.

Illustrators, behold!
This is the limited facsimile edition of an image from The Megillat Esther, reproduced here with the kind permission of Facsimile Editions Limited

I was devastated to hear that they didn't have a showroom where I could bring some booky friends and spend time with these gorgeous objects.

Seeing and touching these books, it was so totally clear to me.

Books are too fabulous to lose and we should do all that is in our power to ensure their survival in the face of all the realities of the Digital Age.


  1. The age of the mp3 hasn't really finished off vinyl records. It's still going strong, even if just for specialist music buffs or DJs.
    I guess everything has its place, or will find its place.

    You could say that those beautiful illuminated texts would be for specialist readers' collections, and therefore will always have a place, even if its a limited one, like vinyl...

    I don't see there's any reason why technology will put an end to the paper-based book, it'll just provide another format for words.

    Those Fascimile Editions do look brilliant!

  2. Ah but perhaps the very reason these books are so precious is because we no longer "have" them. We take for granted the things we do have and treasure that which we no longer have. I think that books will always have a place, somewhere, but how stories are told, well, that will change and change and then change some more.

  3. all good points.

    i guess the tension is between object vs content ... is it the music or the lovely vinyl LP? is it the story or the tactile pages of a book? is it the message or the medium?

    and i think the answer is somewhere in between yes and no. even as ipods and ereaders give us access to more content than would have been possible if we had to stock books and records on shelves, the objects that bring us the content have their own charms.

    and some of these objects that deserve to be prized and kept forever.

    i for one can't wait for the kindle to arrive in the UK but my shelves are bursting with books that i can bear to part with.

  4. My best friend, who is a voracious reader is utterly in love with her Amazon Kindle. She announced to me a couple of months ago that she never wants to buy another paper book. She's always hated hardbacks anyway because they interfere with getting to the words. She reads as a reader. For her the age of the e-book is a godsend.

    Me? Not so much. I am more of a holistic reader. The content is of course the most important thing but I enjoy the feel, look and smell of a good book. I enjoy having them around me. I think that shelves and bedside tables look lonely if they are not smothered in books. For me they are objects of beauty in themselves.

    I imagine that there will always be people like me who will buy an e-book and if they love it they will want to own the hard-copy. Perhaps the e-book will replace the paperback and printed copies will be collectors items.

    Of course I am a product of a generation of book buyers - will the next generation feel so sentimentally I wonder?

  5. apologies for terrible typos in my previous message ... that sentence should have read: "i for one can't wait for the kindle to arrive in the UK but my shelves are bursting with books that i CAN'T bear to part with."

  6. I suppose there'll be a place for books as long as people are worried about getting mugged for their e-reader on the train or bus. New technology doesn't always mean an increase in quality though. I know music buffs who will tell you that high quality vinyl records beat CDs and digital for sound reproduction hands down, and who wants to watch Sponge Bob all day? hmmmm.

  7. Ugh! No e-books! I love my paper-bound comfort-blankets... Love the smell, the feel, the crinkle of a library-plastic-covering... And wow, those are beautiful illustrations. : ) Hope you are well, and have a lovely weekend!

  8. Ooo, lovely! I remember Bryn Mawr College had a fascimile edition of the Book of Kells in their library, and I used to love going there to look at it.

    I visited Trinity College in Dublin once to see it, and the experience wasn't half as good; I should've realised I'd only be able to view the one double-page spread that was open under the glass, but somehow I'd been expecting more. Facsimiles rock.

  9. I did my PhD on medieval manuscripts so thumbed through plenty (I think the librarians would have disapproved of face-rubbing, though). When the printing press arrived, the MS-illuminating scribes thought the press would kill off what they considered to be 'real' books. And they were right, to a degree, but it took hundreds of years to happen. In the meantime, the press created mainstream literacy - a good swap, I'd say.

  10. I don't think electronic readers will spell the end of real books. And I won't stop buying them. But I lust after the Sony e-reader and will get one as soon as they sort out Mac compatibilty.

    Wireless ordering from the Waterstone's site and no weight of books in my hoilday suitcases - bliss!

  11. seriously, they were so lovely i wanted to rub my cheek against the pages.

    mary, i came SO CLOSE to buying a sony e-reader the other day and then i checked the waterstone's site and discovered that none of the key books i wanted were listed! boo!

  12. And will writers feel the same if all their words are just floating in the electronic ether?

    Why not just set up your own website, charge a subscription and cut out the middle-man (i.e publisher?). I know that Stephen King tried this some years ago, maybe he was just a bit ahead of his time.

    Maybe I became a writer because I'm a book lover. I struggle to thow any of my books away while I have dusty piles of cds, vinyl and tapes. There's a far far greater variety in the product (as a book) than there is with cds/records whatever which are all identical shape and format, not so beautiful in themselves. Books come in endless shapes sizes, paper weight and colour. What three year old will get a thrill opening a e-book compared to a pop-up or something by Jan Pienkowski?


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom