There’s nothing like an evil wizard to ruin a perfect good trip to London.
Ever have one of those weeks? You’ve taken an overdose of magic, you’ve just melted a twelve-year old girl, and Magic HQ has sent a letter “requesting” you come by to discuss your magic control issues.
No? Just me then?
I don’t want to go. I’ve got a boss in a wheelchair (my fault), a zombie cat who demands his treats on schedule, and no interest in sorting out the quirks of another magical community.
But when someone slips me information tying my parents’ disappearance to HQ, I can’t pack my bags quickly enough.
I’m soon destroying historical displays, befriending befuddled ghosts, and focusing more on uncovering the truth about my past than on figuring out how to rein in my magic. Which, since HQ has a test for me that if I fail… Well, best not to think about that.
This second book of The Cassie Black Trilogy squeezes you through a magic portal, lodges you in a hidden corner of the Tower of London, and plunges you into a tale of mysterious mishaps, peculiar ravens, and TV-binging trolls.
If you like contemporary fantasy with unforgettable characters, snarky humor, and a touch of paranormal mystery — or if you’ve ever wondered what those garden gnomes are really up to — you’ll find it hard to pry yourself away from The Uncanny Raven Winston.
The Book Owl Podcast is (almost) a year old! And like many people will do during milestone birthdays, The Book Owl has decided to take things to the extreme. Sorry, it doesn’t involve bungie jumping. In this episode we explore some bookish extremes from the biggest book to the biggest library, the oldest tome to the oldest bookstore, and much more. Fair warning…there is singing involved.
Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.
So it’s Episode 25. And you’re now saying, so what. Well, right about a year ago (give or take a few day) I released the trailer for The Book Owl Podcast. Yep, it was my vocal debut…laaaa! I was as nervous as you can get without actually having heart failure. And before recording that trailer, and the first three or four episodes, if I’m being honest, I REALLY had to convince myself to get in front of the microphone. Now, recording is the part of putting these episodes together that I enjoy the most…cause I’m a big ol’ ham stuck in an introvert’s body.
And I can hear you saying, What is your point, you mad woman!? My point is The Book Owl Podcast is one year old. So Happy Birthday to the Book Owl!
As many people will do with milestone birthdays, the Book Owl is taking things to the extreme. No, not bungie jumping or parachuting…maybe I’ll save that for the 2nd birthday party. Instead, we’re looking at some extremes of book nerdy trivia. From the largest book to the oldest library, you’re going to have oodles of facts to annoy people with when we do ever get the chance to get together and are forced to make chit chat. You remember chitchat, right? Anyone? Anyone?
Starting Off With Thanks
But before we jump into the extremes of the book world, a triple round of thanks needs to be taken care of. First, I have to thank Ivonne for buying the Book Owl a cuppa as a way to show her support for the show. Ivonne is an Instagram buddy who I swear must be penpals with half the world. She creates some gorgeous letters, envelopes, and papery goodies I’d imagine must be a delight to get in the mail.
A second thanks goes yet again to Jonathon Pongratz for repeatedly sharing the show on his own Jaunts & Haunts blog. And a final bit of thanks goes to LaVelle who took the plunge and purchased some Book Owl swag. It looks like she got a few t-shirts with the Book Owl logo emblazoned across the front, so hopefully she’s enjoying those and sparking people’s curiosity about the show as she sports them around town.
Of course, if you like what you’re hearing, I’m just glad you’re listening, reviewing, and sharing, But if you are enjoying the show and want to lend the owl a little support, there’s loads of very inexpensive ways to do just that by popping into that Support link in the show notes..
Okay, let’s go to the extreme.
Defining a Book
So before we start this I’m going to put out a, I don’t know caveat, explanation, whatever. When I refer to “book” I mean an item made up of pages that is bound together and held in a cover of some sort.
There are some things that are considered “books” that are actually just a series of tablets, or scrolls, or whatnot, but for this show, a book is what likely immediately comes to mind when someone says book. Not a bookie, that is something entirely different… and something you might want to avoid.
The Oldest Book
So let’s start off with the oldest book out there. And that would be The Golden Orphism Book. Orphism was a religion in Ancient Greece and in Thracia, which is now Bulgaria, and the religion was based around the story of Orpheus, which is actually one of my favorite Greek myths, so cool. But rather than contain that heartbreaking myth, the book is more of a handbook that describes the burial rites of the religion.
The book is 2,670 years old and was only found 70 years ago during a dig in Bulgaria. And it’s pretty small, only 5 cm tall, which is about 2 inches, and weighs right around 100g, or about 3.5 ounces. But for its small size, it’s pretty eye catching as its six pages are made of entirely of gold, hence its other not-so-clever name The Etruscan Gold Book…and I thought I was bad at coming up with titles. But wait, what’s with that Etruscan bit? Well, it was written in Etruscan. Again, not so clever with the naming.
The Smallest Book
Okay, so at only a couple inches tall, that Etruscan book is kind of tiny, but it’s HUGE compared to the two smallest books in the world. And yeah, I had to cheat here and go with two because for some reason the book Teeny Ted from Turnip Town (great title, by the way) is touted as the smallest. It’s a mere 0.07 mm by 0.10 mm, that’s smaller than a poppy seed! It was created using nano imaging on 30 itty bitty sheets of silica. There were 100 copies made. But while you’re getting your copy, stop by the hardware store and grab a scanning electron microscope because that’s the only way you can read it.
Okay so that’s impressive, but a Russian man, Vladimir Aniskin, created, by hand mind you not with some fancy schmancy nano laser dohicky, a book that measures only .07 by .09 mm, making it 0.01mm smaller than the “smallest book”. So, I’m still confused as to why Teeny Ted is considered the smallest.
Anyway, Vladimir’s book is made on sheets of super thin film and the crazy part is he bound them with thin wire so you can actually turn the pages, if you have a special tool to do so. And again, you’re going to be glad you picked up that electron microscope because you’ll also need it to read this book, so be sure to add that in to your book-buying budget for the month.
Speaking of budgets, want to know what the most expensive book in the world is? Well, it’s a little tricky.
Okay, so let me explain…the most expensive book by purchase price was a copy of the Book of Mormon which sold for something like $34-ish million. The second priciest book at the auction house sold for nearly $31 million. And both of those were sold back in the 1990s. But due to adjusting for inflation and the perceived value of the work, that cheapo book is now ranked as the most expensive book in the world.
So what is this pricey book and who’s the luck owner? Well, it was bought by Bill Gates and is Leonardo da Vinci’a Codex Leicester, named for the Earl of Leicester who owned it before Mr. Microsoft. The book was created in 1506-1510 and is full of da Vinci’s notes on fossils, water flow, astronomy, it has sketches of various things from da Vinci’s imaginative mind, and is mostly written in his backwards, mirror handwriting. So it’s expensive sure, but at least buying a mirror to read it is cheaper than that electron microscope.
I like big books and I cannot lie? No? Well, if you can’t impress people with the most expensive book in the world, how about the biggest book in the world? This thing required all sorts of special equipment to put together and is even more impressive because it was entirely handmade using traditional bookbinding methods. It was written, illustrated, and put together in Hungary by Belga Varga. And I don’t know maybe this guy was really into large print books, but this thing is 4.2 m by 3.8 m, which is 14 by 12 feet; it weighs 1420 kg, or just over 3100 pounds; and six people and a special tool are required to turn the pages.
But don’t worry, it won’t take long to read, because it only has 346 pages. And I bet a lot of that is taken up with pictures since the book is all about the animals, plants, and geology of Begla’s small village.
But what will take you a long time to read is what’s been deemed the world’s longest book. This is the romantic tale Artaméne, ou le Grand Cyrus and was written in the 17th century by Madeline de Scudery who apparently had a lot of time on her hands. It’s so long it couldn’t be bound into a single book, and was instead put into 10 volumes of romance novel splendor…no word on if Fabio was on any off the covers.
Okay, so how big is it? It’s a whopping 2.1 million words. To put that into perspective, the average novel these days is about 60 to 80,000 words, and the massive tome War & Peace is about 550,000 words.
So, are you ready to tackle it? Well, you’re in luck because Artaméne is in the public domain. But fair warning before you dive in, it does only get a 2.9 star average on Goodreads.
So, let’s close the books and take a look at extreme places to get some books. And just as we started with the world’s oldest book, let’s start with the world’s oldest library. Or let’s try to because again I am a little confused on this bit of trivia.
So, the place that’s touted as the oldest library was started in 859 CE. It’s the al-Qarawiyyin Library (AL – CORE – OH – WEE- INN) and was founded by Fatima al-Fihri, who was the daughter of a wealthy Tunisian merchant and she also founded the Qarawiyyin Mosque and Qarawiyyin University, so kudos to her! And I did practice that pronunciation with How to Pronounce dot com, so I hope I’ve got it close.
So Fatima’s library fell into disrepair and had to be shut down for a while except to certain scholars. Well, in 2012 a renovation project began, and the library was reopened to the public in 2017.
Okay, so 859 CE, that’s pretty old and like I said, it’s ranked as the oldest, but there is another library at the foot of Mt Sinai that was started around 550 CE and this is the Saint Catherine’s Monastery library and it’s been in continuous use ever since it began. So I’m still not sure why this one isn’t considered the oldest and I couldn’t find a concrete answer to that. Maybe because it’s not exactly a public library, and it’s more of a religious library? I don’t know. So if you happen to know why, please let me know because it’s really bugging me.
Anyway, St. Catherine’s is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it does have the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts, the library in Vatican City has the largest…hey, another extreme and I didn’t even try!
I like big libraries and I cannot lie? Still no? Okay. Well, the battle for extremes continues because we’ve also got some contention for the largest library in the world. And by largest, I don’t mean by square footage, I mean by collection size.
Because according to the Wikipedia gurus, both the British Library and the Library of Congress have 170 million items in their collections. Although the British Library I think might be trying to squeeze a few more items in by listing their collection size at 170 to 200 million (you know, like they’re not sure…or more like they don’t want to concede to us pesky Americans.). Fair enough. Still, number funding or not, these collections are impressive because the next largest in the list is the Shanghai Library with a mere 59 million items. It’s like they’re not even tying to win. Sheesh.
And finally we come to our last extreme…the world’s oldest bookstore. And after seeing this place, I really want to go there. It’s Betrand’s Bookstore located in Lisbon, Portugal. And it opened its doors in 1732. Unfortunately, the bookstore itself doesn’t date to 1732 it was toppled in a massive earthquake in 1755. But fear not, the bookstore was rebuilt soon after the earthquake an so can still claim it’s status as oldest. Hoorah for you Betrand’s and some day when I can travel again, I will be browsing your aisles.
So that’s it for extremes, except now the Book Owl is wondering where the largest birthday cake might be. So while the baker’s get the ovens ready, how about a few updates?
I am very very very happy to say that the worst is over in my writing world. For now anyway.
I just wrapped up the final big edit on the third Cassie Black book, which means the hardest work for the trilogy is done. I’ll still be doing another proofread of book two and possibly give book three one or two more passes, but these really are just going to be proofreading and making teeny tiny tweaks to the language. Which is good because my red pen is nearly out of ink after the last blast of edits I did on both books earlier this month.
And that was a bit of misery. I read book two and edited it one week, mostly minor edits, but still time consuming. Then the following week I read and edited book three, and that was a pretty big edit going over my own changes and suggestions from my beta readers. And seriously, I hate my own words at this point. But at the end of that second week, I felt a ginormous amount of relief.
As I’ve said before, I have had more fun than ever writing the trilogy, but the pace to get these last two books done and ready for my review team and for publication has been insane.
Speaking of review teams, if you want to join mine, there is a link in the show notes to apply. It’s a quick and easy application, but if you like to review books and if you want to see my stuff before anyone else, I’d encourage you to check it out.
Okay my book loving friends, that is it for this birthday bonanza. I hope you enjoyed the show. If you did, please please please share it with one other person, leave a review, or pop into that link to show your support. Have a great couple weeks and I will hoot at you next time.
The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by auphonic .com. Video production by Headliner dot app.
It’s a few days early for St. Patrick’s Day, but The Book Owl just couldn’t wait to share with you the luck of the Irish…or rather, the luck of one of Ireland’s most famous books and how its story weaves together with the history of Trinity College’s Old Library (aka “The Long Room”). It’s a tale of Viking marauding, roofs collapsing…and cow banning.
Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.
Setting the Mood
It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s windy, and you’re in a tiny boat after fleeing from your peaceful island home that’s just been invaded by one of the most feared groups of the ages. There’s no cover, and you can only hope your boat doesn’t capsize.
And worst of all, you’re in charge of making sure a precious book makes it safely to where it needs to go. A book in which one page alone would have taken weeks to produce.
No pressure or anything.
Boats? Books? Icky weather? Clearly, we’re preparing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the podcast.
Okay, so your St. Patty’s Day festivities may be more beer oriented than book oriented, but I figured the day that celebrates Ireland’s most famous saint, would also be the perfect day to tell you all about Ireland’s most famous library and the most famous book within that library.
And yes, with St Patricks Day still 6 days away, I’m a little early with this but that’s just the way things worked out. And hey, you can always listen to it again on the 17th.
Thank You and Sales Pitch
But before we step through the doors of Trinity College Library to get a peek at the Book of Kells, I just want to offer one quick thank you to everyone who purchased my darkly humorous paranormal mystery tale, The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, since it launched a couple weeks ago. You put a big smile on my face and gave me a nice boost in the Amazon ranking system….for a few days.
And of course, if you didn’t get your copy yet, it’s never too late to pop into that link in the show notes. Oh, and if you did get a copy and you have read it, be sure to leave a review on Bookbub, Goodreads, or wherever you bought it…thanks!
I initially had planned to make this a two part celebration with one episode dedicated to Trinity College Library and another dedicated to the Book Of Kells, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of information on the library, which I found really odd. So what I’m going to do instead is blend the two histories of these two topics until they come together in a nice little bookish mesh.
Well, that’s the plan, anyway.
Oh, and one more thing before we start, I know, long intro, sorry. Over on Instagram, I’m not only celebrating all things Irish, but also coping with being unable to travel by sharing a picture from my trips to Ireland every day in March. So, if you’re on instagram be sure to follow along!
Okay can we start this damn episode, already?
A Little Explanation
Now for those of you who don’t know, The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript. And no that doesn’t mean it comes with a nightlight. “Illuminated” in this case means decorated with drawings or dolled up with fancy capitals. These were typically religious texts and would have been created on calf vellum by scribes literally working their fingers to the bone.
And for the numbers people out there, The Book of Kells itself measures 33 cm tall by 25 cm wide, or 13 inches by 10 inches. And inside there’s currently 680 pages of illustrations that include some Christian iconography, but also curious Celtic animals and knots, and elaborate interlaced borders. Oh yeah, and there’s text too, which consists of the four gospels as well as some other religious essays.
Research has figured out that the Book of Kells was created sometime in the late 800s to early 900s. Based on the handwriting and the style of the images has shown that the book was likely filled in by three artists and four scribes.
And that research also shows they used pigments such as red and yellow ochre, oak gall for black, and woad for purple. But they were also using lead and arsenic, so probably not a long-term career being a scribe.
But onto the history, and for that we have to go back even further to the 500s.
St. Colmcille Hates Cows
So in 521 common era a guy is born to the royal Niall family of Ireland. A few years later, he’s grown into a bit of troublemaker so he takes a copy of the gospels. The church asks for it back, he refuses, and a big old battle ensues. Now, the Niall family didn’t gain power by being friendly and altruistic. They were warriors. As such, they won the battle and loads of people died.
The guy feels bad for so many people dying for his foolishness so he undergoes a form of self-penance and leaves Ireland. He eventually ends up on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland where he founds an abbey. And this guy becomes known as St. Colmcille, or St. Columba if you want to Anglicize things.
And for as tiny as this island is, it’s barely 3 miles long by a mile wide, it becomes a huge religious center, St. Colmcille becomes super important, and Iona becomes a site of pilgrimage as well as the burial place of 60 kings from Scotland, ireland, and Norway.
And just as a funny side note, Colmcille had some strange convictions. See, at the time, there were mied religious houses, so nuns and monks would share the same residence, and if I remember right, they might even marry. Well, Colmcille was having none of it and wouldn’t even allow the wives of the men building his monastery to stay on the island. He also banned cows. Why cows and women? Because he said wherever there are cows there are women, and wherever there are women, there is mischief. Which is true.
Of course he also banned frogs and snakes from the island, but it’s an island in northern Scotland so I’m wondering how many there were to begin with.
Anyway, back to the story. St. Colmcille dies in 597, and it’s thought the Book of Kells might have been started in honor of the 200th anniversary of his death. And it was started on Iona.
Notice I said it was started there.
The Vikings Arrive
Because right around this time there were these pesky mustachioed fellows roaming the seas, popping onto shore and raping and pillaging treasure.
The monks of Iona either got some warning the Vikings were coming, or managed a lucky escape before the Vikings got to their treasure, because they sent a handful of their brothers in a small boat with the relics of St. Colmcille and the illuminated manuscript they’d begun.
A few relics were lost, but the boat and the book eventually make it to the abbey at Kells in Ireland.
And it’s in Kells where the book is finished, and is why it’s known as the Book of Kells.
So fast forward another couple hundred-ish years and for the first time the book is mentioned in the Annals of Ulster. It’s the 11th century and the reason its noted down is because it got stolen. Yeah, you know someone got in trouble for that one.
Why would someone steal a book? Especially in a time when so many people were illiterate? Because these illuminated manuscripts weren’t sitting around for people to thumb through. There were part of religious ceremonies and often kept in fancy cases in or near the high altar. And the Book of Kells’s case was made of gold.
That’s what the thieves were after. Which is a lucky thing, because it appears they took the case, then discarded the book, which was found (I don’t know exalt how long after) buried in the dirt with its case missing. This did do some damage to the book, including losing several pages, but for the thing to have survived at all is crazy lucky.
Quick Jump Through History
Okay big history jump again. This time to 1592 when Queen Elizabeth decides to build a university in Dublin. Then Lizzie dies, we go through a few kings, and then Oliver Cromwell goes right through the neck of Charles I. Crowell then brings his forces to Ireland. And I won’t go into all the history, but this guy had some serious anger issues.
He ends up in Kells in 1653/54, destroys most of the abbey the Book of Kells was kept in, and turns the church into a stable for his horses. Luckily, again this is a very lucky book, the church folks had gotten the Book of Kells out of there before his arrival and to the safety of Dublin Castle. And in 1661 Henry Jones, who then becomes Bishop of Meath once Crowell is taken care of and King Charles II is in power, presents the Book of Kells to Trinity College where it’s found a happy home ever since.
So in 1712, the library of Trinity College was begun. It would take 20 years before what is known as the Old Library or the Long Room would open. And it’s not because they were being careful architects that this took so long. They actually ran out of money soon into the project. In the end it ended up costing 20,000 pounds, which is about 1.4 million pounds today, or around $2million. And the library opened with 25,000 books to fill its shelves.
In 1801 Trinity College Library was made a legal deposit, which means it receives one copy of every book published in Ireland and the UK. And if that sounds familiar, The British Library, which I talked about way back in Episode 7, is also a legal deposit.
So, this is great, right? It establishes the library really is legit. Well, the problem was the library wasn’t built for all the books that were now flooding in. See, the original library was built with a flat-ish roof and with book cases all along its length and walls. Well the weight of all those books started pushing the walls of the library outward and the ceiling by was about to collapse.
Thankfully, smarty pants came in and by 1861 had redesigned the Old Library to have an upper gallery and a weight bearing vaulted ceiling, making it look like, as some people say, a cathedral of books. On the shelves are 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, there’s also marble busts of famous authors and other literary sorts, a Celtic harp that was supposed to have belonged to Brian Boru (it didn’t), and one of the few realigning copies of the 1916 Easter Proclamation that insisted on Ireland’s independence form the UK and was read in front of the General Post Office.
And again, for you numbers lovers, the Long Room is 65 meters long, and that’s 215 feet for the non-metric folks out there. And it’s this Long Room that you’ll likely see if you look up Trinity College Library, but the library itself is still a working library where people can go to do research and make use of the collection of texts.
It’s also right about the time the Old Library was redesigned that the Book of Kells goes on display to the public.
And as a personal note, I have visited the Trinity Library and the Book of Kells…and unfortunately, the page it was turned to on the day I was there was almost all text and not very impressive. The manuscripts at the Chester Beatty Museum, which I talked about in episode 11, were far more ooh and ahh inspiring.
Now, I can’t complain too much because I did get in for free (because I know people), but If I had to pay the 15 euro or whatever it is to get in, I’d have been annoyingly disappointed. However, the Long Room was even better than I expected, so I guess that balances it out a bit.
Still, if we’re ever allowed to travel again and you do get to Dublin, and you want to see gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, I’d say to try the Chester Beatty first, then do Trinity College Library if you have the time and money….unless you know people. There’s also another way to get in for free, which I also did, but it’s not exactly legal, so I won’t tell you.
I think that’s all I have for Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. If you want to see some pages from the book and some images of the library, I’ll put a link in the show notes for Trinity College Library. They also have a couple virtual exhibitions on there that are a great way to procrastinate for a bit.
And now it’s the time for updates. The podcast is plugging along. The show is nearly a year old, which means I need to start making some decisions. The website and domain name will expire in one more year, so as 2021 progress, I’ll need to ponder over whether to keep the show running, or to turn off the mic on this little project. This show does take a long time to put together and I’m not sure what exactly I’m getting from it, other than some interesting research, so…
As for writing, I’m done with The Uncanny Raven Winston Book Two of The Cassie Black Trilogy. Hoorah! It is on pre-order and comes out on 13 April and I’ll be sending it to my review team soon to see what they think.
And I have to say, this was such a fun book to write because much of it takes place in London, and so it was a great way to travel to one of my favorite cities during lockdown. And Book Three, The Untangled Cassie Black just needs a couple more read throughs. That one is also on pre-order and comes out 18 May, and it’s going to feel a little weird to have this trilogy done and dusted.
Okay my book loving friends, that is it. If you enjoyed the show, you can either show your support by purchasing one of my books (links in the show notes) or by simply telling one other person about the show. And with that I will hoot at you next time.
The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com. Video creation by Headliner.app