Book History, Episodes, libraries

24. The Lucky Book of Kells

 

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.

Mentioned in This Episode….

Like what you hear?

The (Rough) Transcript

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.

Intro

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!

Plans Changed

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.

Losing It

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.

The Library

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.

On Display

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

Updates

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.

Outro

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.

Credits

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

Episodes, Having Fun

23. Super Sappy Letters of Love

 

The Book Owl is a little belated, but this episode is all about the lovey-dovey, super-gushy story of love letters. From that very first Valentine (which may not actually exist) to the oldest (and sappiest) love letter in English, it’s time to use words to bare our souls!

Mentioned in This Episode….

Like what you hear?

The (Rough) Transcript

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. 

Intro

Now, I know I’m running a little late with this, but when I was trying to come up with an idea for this 23rd episode of the podcast, it was right around Valentine’s Day and love was in the air. Of course I am head over heels for books and could have maybe come up with a lengthy poem about that lifelong adoration, but since I’m not at all poetic, I thought I’d step away from books this time, and instead turn to another form of writing: the love letter. 

But before we jump into this lovey dovey, super gushy episode, give me just a few moments to share a special announcement. 

The Big Announcement

As you know, I usually save my updates for the end of the show, but I’m a bit too ecstatic over this week’s update to wait that long. So, the big news is, shoot, I should have found a drum roll soundbite, anyway the big news is…

My latest novel The Undead Mr. Tenpenny launched its way into the world on Tuesday. The book is available at all major ebook retailers including Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Tolino, and on my very own Payhip BookStore, for slightly less than you’ll pay at the other stores. It’s not a huge discount, but you know. The book also available as a paperback. I know Amazon has it, and if it isn’t already, it should be showing up on other retailers soon.

I don’t want to gobble up too much time here, so I’ll wait until the end of to read you the book description and share some reviews from a few people who have already read the book and who truly gave me the confidence to go ahead with the publication of this novel. So, more on that later. And of course, whenever you’re ready to go do some book shopping, the links and details you need are going to be in the show notes.

A Quick Thank You

And one quick bit of thanks goes out to Jonathon, aka “Jonny”, Pongratz who has been enthusiastically commenting on and sharing the show on his own Jaunts & Haunts blog. 

He’s also been tossing stars around like a Hollywood sidewalk designer with all the reviews he’s been doing on my stories lately. And if you want to see those reviews, the link to his website will be in the show notes. And just as a free bit of “thank you” advertising, Jonny has also just released his own new novel. It’s called Reaper: Aftermath, and you’ll find out all about it if you head to his website at JonathonPongratz.com

Okay, so we have a show to get to.

St. Valentine – Who Are You??

As you might know, Valentine’s Day — besides celebrating all things chocolate — is celebrated in honor of St. Valentine. But who in the world is this guy and what does he have to do with the 14th of February, or with sending gooey sweet cards to your loved ones?

Well, no one really knows. Okay, that’s not exactly true, but in the book that records all things saintly there are three people, and in some accounts seven people, who all fit the bill for being St. Valentine. So what we end up with is kind of a hodge podge of various stories blending into one person over the years. And there really are a lot of bits and bobs to all the Valentine histories, but like a cheap bottle of red wine, I’m going with the blend because it’s far less confusing. 

So our mash up guy had the family name of Valens, which means worthy, and his name got Romanized into Valentinius, or Valentinus, whichever you prefer. I like Valentinius, and it’s my podcast, so that’s what you’re going to get. 

Valentine Proves His Stuff

Valentinius was a Christian priest or possibly a bishop in the third century common era. And this was before Emperor Constantine went and converted all the Romans to Christianity, so being a Christian was still something that was looked down upon by the Roman powers that be. And by looked down upon, I mean you were likely to get sent to the lions if you got a bit too mouthy about your faith.

Since this new religion wasn’t very well tolerated, Valentinius was arrested for trying to spread the word, or for marrying couples in the Christian tradition, again, whichever story you prefer. It’s kind of a choose your own adventure of religious history, right?

Valentinius was put under house arrest in the home of Judge Asterius (who may or may not have had a chubby friend named Obelixius, and if you don’t get that joke, go look up some Belgian comics). Anyway, one day Valentinius and the judge get chatting about religion, as you do. The judge said, “If your god is really so great, and if you believe in him so damn much, then make my blind daughter see again and I’ll do whatever your Christ-loving heart desires.” That’s not an exact quote, by the way.

So of course, voila! Valentinius makes the blind girl see, the judge converts to Christianity and sets all his Christian inmates free, including Valentinius. Not seeing what a lucky break he’s gotten, Valentinius goes back to his rebellious ways and starts trying to convert people again. 

Valentine Doesn’t Learn

The emperor is having nothing to do with this and arrests Valentinius again. But as with the judge, the two get to talking. These people seem to have a lot of conversations with their prisoners. Anyway, the emperor finds out he kind of likes this Valentinius guy. It’s nearly a bromance in the making when Valentinius commits a huge Roman ruler faux pas and tries to convert the emperor. The emperor is like, “Nope, not gonna do it” and sentences Valentinius to be beaten and beheaded. 

And, as the legend goes, while Valentinius is waiting for his execution, he makes friends, or possibly more than friends, with the jailor’s daughter. On the night before hs death, he writes her a note thanking her for her kindness and signs it: Your Valentine. But you know, in Latin. 

The Valentine Scandal

Or so the story goes.

See, none of the records have Valentinius writing that infamous note, and it’s likely it was just an embellishment added to his tale in the 18th century. Which I would just bet is when the greeting card industry was looking for a new marketing scheme.

Anyway, so Valentinius was executed on the 14th of February 269 common era. He was made a saint, I think in 496, if I’m reading things right, but his saint’s day, that would be Valentine’s Day, really wasn’t seen as much more than any other holy day for at least another 500 years. Because it’s not until some time around the years 1100 to 1200 that the day becomes a time to celebrate love and to give your sweetheart a token of our affection…including love letters…because, you know, there were no Hallmark stores yet.

And just as a little side note, in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 6th of July, so if you forgot to get your sweetie something special this Valentine’s Day, you can try to point out that you’re really not late, but do so at your own risk because that excuse might earn you a smack upside the head.

Famous Love Letters

This whole Valentine and his letters thing got me wondering about famous historical love letters, and this did end up being a fun bit of research. I know this isn’t exactly book-related, but as I said, it is a form of writing and so it does fit with the theme of the podcast.

And there were a ton of examples of famous love letters, but I’ll just run through a handful, then we’ll get to the gushiest, the most dramatic one, which is also the oldest love letter written in English.

One of the oldest love letters is actually in the Bible. I know, this is turning into a very religious epidote, but I promise it stops soon. So this is the Song of Solomon and that book of the Bible is basically just one long, and at times pretty sexy, love poem. And it is pretty gushy.

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.”

Which is far better than thinking about all those stinky animals on Noah’s Ark.

Alright, so of course, amongst the famous couples of the world we have Napoleon and Josephine. Napoleon was gobsmacked by Jo the moment he saw her, and as a young lieutenant he wrote to her obsessively. For her part, she barely replied. Quite the coquette our Josephine!

In one letter he writes,

“A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you I feel I love you a thousand times more… I beg you, let me see some of your faults: be less beautiful, less graceful, less kind, less good…”

Yeah Jo, if you could just suck a little bit, I wouldn’t be tormented by loving you. Nah, he’d probably love her all the more.

A very famous love letter, made even more famous by a movie starring Gary Oldman is Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved letter. We still don’t know who he wrote it to, but man, this guy had it bad…He writes,

“I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all. What longing in tears for you — You — my Life — my All — farewell. Oh, go on loving me — never doubt the faithfullest heart

Of your beloved, L

Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.”

Sorry, is it getting warm in here?

The Oldest Love Letter in English

So the oldest love letter written in English was in fact a Valentines’ Day letter, written in 1477. It comes from a collection of correspondences of the Paston family, and the whole collection gives a really good glimpse into life at that time. And in the show notes, I’ll include a link so you can see the actual letter itself.

It’s written by Margery Brews to John Paston, who is her fiancé. And this letter, so gushy, I wonder if Margery might not be embarrassed that we’re reading it to this day. In the letter it seems like something has come up that maybe her dad isn’t cool with the engagement, but Margery will never give up on her John. 

She’s actually a little scary. 

She writes, and I’m pretty sure this is how she would have said all this..

Unto my right well-beloved Valentine John Paston, squire, I am not in good health of body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you. For there knows no creature what pain that I endure, And even on the pain of death I would reveal no more. 

And then she goes on saying her mom has been pleading their case, but she’s been getting nowhere for her efforts. But this won’t deter our Marge.

But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave me therefore. For even if you had not half the livelihood that you have… I would not forsake you. 

So basically, even if he’s poor, shed still want him. Then, even though she says her friends have tried to dissuade her from making this promise she swears…

And if you command me to keep me true wherever I go, indeed I will do all my might you to love and never anyone else. My heart me bids evermore to love you truly over all earthly things. 

Finally and quite dramatically, she concludes…

And if they be never so angry, I beseech you that this bill be not seen by any non-earthly creature save only yourself. And this letter was written at Topcroft with full heavy heart.

Yeah, I don’t know John, she sounds a bit clingy…just saying.

Anyway, that is it for love letters, one of the sappiest but also most endearing forms of writing that anyone can do…if they dare!

Reviews are Love Letters to Authors

Alright, as promised, it’s time for more about my book release. And speaking of love letters, I just have to give a big hunk of love to my early readers. As you know from earlier episodes, I had lost a lot of confidence in The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, but I pushed through and sent it out to some brave readers. 

And they didn’t hate it! In fact they’ve loved the humor, the characters, and the story line, and they really gave me the final push to actually release the book. Basically, those reviews were more meaningful than any love letter. So, if you ever think a review doesn’t matter, think again and leave that review!

The Undead Mr. Tenpenny Description

Okay, here’s the description for The Undead Mr Tenpenny, there’s also links in the show notes to some videos to celebrate the book launch – you know, just in case you want to see the face behind the voice, and of course there’s links to do a bit of book shopping.

Okay, so the tagline is

Work at a funeral home can be mundane. Until you accidentally start bringing the dead back to life.

And the description reads,

Cassie Black works at a funeral home. She’s used to all manner of dead bodies. What she’s not used to is them waking up. Which they seem to be doing on a disturbingly regular basis lately.

Just when Cassie believes she has the problem under control, the recently-deceased Busby Tenpenny insists he’s been murdered and claims Cassie might be responsible thanks to a wicked brand of magic she’s been exposed to. The only way for Cassie to get her life back to normal is to tame her magic and uncover Mr. Tenpenny’s true killer.

Simple right? Of course not. Because while Cassie works on getting her newly-acquired magic sorted, she’s blowing up kitchens, angering an entire magical community, and discovering her past is more closely tied to Busby Tenpenny than she could have ever imagined.

If you like contemporary fantasy with snarky humor, unforgettable characters, and paranormal mystery such as Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, you’ll find it hard to pry yourself away from this first book of the Cassie Black Trilogy.

A Little Praise from Early Readers

And I’ll just quote a few of those reviewer love letters before I let you go…

The Undead Mr. Tenpenny is a clever, hilarious romp through a new magical universe that can be accessed through the closet of a hole-in-the-wall apartment in Portland, Oregon.

—Sarah Angleton, author of Gentleman of Misfortune

When I saw the book title…my first thought was, “another zombie apocalypse”. A wonderful surprise greeted me with an entertaining story that was written with humor, a great story line and new twist on the undead.

—J. Tate, Eugene Reviewer

…suffused with dark humor and witty dialogue, of the sort that Painter excels at…a fun read for anyone who enjoys fast-paced, somewhat snarky, somewhat twisted, fantasy adventures.

—Berthold Gambrel, author of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Wow and wow again! I absolutely loved this book! You get such a feel for the characters and the story is so fast paced you don’t want to put it down.

—Goodreads Reviewer

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that’s it for this love-filled episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person, and if you’d like to show your support, please go get a copy of The Undead Mr. Tenpenny from your favorite retailer! Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

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

Book History, Episodes

22. The Devil’s in the Details

 

Back in the day, even printing a Bible required getting in league with the devil…printer devils, that is. Discover the legends and lores in this re-released and re-mastered version of a Book Owl classic…you know, back when I was beyond nervous when facing the microphone!

(This is a re-release of Episode 2 – Making a Deal with the Devil). There’s a new intro and the audio has been re-processed.)

Like what you hear?

The (Rough) Transcript

New Intro

(Not transcribed, but let’s just say I’ve been drowning in writing chores and didn’t have time to research, write, record, and edit a new episode this week. I will be back in a couple weeks with a new episode – hopefully – and a special announcement.)

Old Intro

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, these days you can click a button and have most any book printed on demand and in your hands in days, but it wasn’t always so quick and easy. And no, I’m not referring tot the days when you actually had to get off your butt and go to the bookstore and buy a book.

It wasn’t all that long ago that took a lot of effort to make a book. In fact, if you wanted a book printed you might even have had to make a deal with the devil….even if that book was a bible.

Sponsor Break

Before we delve into this devilish episode it’s time for a tiny sponsor break. I know, I know, no one likes ads, but this will be quick and painless. Podcasts aren’t the cheapest things to run. There’s hosting costs, equipment, and let me tell you, they take a lot of time. So, if you like what you’re hearing and if you’re able to, you can show your appreciation and support the podcast by visiting the book owl podcast dot com slash support where you’ll find several super inexpensive ways to help keep the show running.

Okay, that wasn’t so bad, was it. Now, let’s get on with the show and the devil really is in the details with this one.

How to Print a Book…Back in the Day

So even though we’re talking about devils, there’s no need to fear for your immortal soul (unless you’ve been very naughty). See back in the day, if you wanted a book or a newspaper, you had no choice…you had to get in league with the devil…a printer’s devil to be exact.

Of course the printing press is an invention worshipped by book nerds and we’ll explore it’s story some other time, but for now just know that up until relatively recently to make a book or newspaper, every single letter and every single space or punctuation mark on every single printed page had to arranged by a human hand…a very deft human hadn’t at that.

Okay, that’s bad enough to imagine, but not only did these someones have to lay down the letters of every word, they also had to do it in reverse so the words once printed would read correctly. So anyone out there complaining about how tricky it can be to format a document in Word, believe me, you’ve got nothing to complain about.

Ooh, Devils!!!

Anyway, as you can imagine, the work of a printer and typesetter was tedious, labor intensive work. But that work would be made a tiny bit easier if you had an assistant. And that assistant was called a printer’s devil.

This was usually a young boy, possibly an apprentice, whose main tasks would be to mix the ink and to fetch the letters as needed and to put the used letters back in the right place. And even though it’s highly likely that there were some serious child labor laws being broken, this wasn’t unskilled labor because these kids had to be somewhat literate in order to fetch the correct letter. Think about it, if you’re typesetting a word like SHOT you certainly don’t want some illiterate rapscallion mixing up your O’s and your I’s.

And there were some famous little devils, including Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and John Kellogg (yes, Mr Cornflakes and healthy living himself).

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part One

Alright none who can remember their grade school days on the playground know that little boys can be hellions, but why were these particular lads called devils?

There’s actually no clear answer on this, which of course means a slew of tales have sprouted up to answer it. Some of the tales are downright dull, while others have a wonderful dose of embellishment to them.

So the most boring explanation says that the fingers of these boys would be stained black from the ink. Since Satan is the lord of darkness, the dark fingers lead people to call the kids devils. Told you that was boring. Also, I would imagine the typesetters themselves had stained fingers as well, so the explanation also falls flat on my logic meter.

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Two

The second tale is slightly more interesting and provides a nice little play on words. Okay, so the little letters that had to be arranged were cast onto tiny pieces metal. If you’ve seen how small the print is on old timey newspapers, you’ll get an idea of just how tiny those metal pieces were.

Anyway, this metal wasn’t titanium or anything and after so many uses the raised letters would wear down and anything printed using those letters would make the reader wonder if they’d developed sudden onset glaucoma.

Instead of tormenting their customers with having to needlessly visit the eye doctor, although that could have been a good side swindle, the worn type was tossed into a box so the metal could be melted down and re-cast. That box was called a hellbox and since it was these kids tossing things into the hellbox, they earned the name devils.

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Three (My Favorite)

That’s not a bad behind the name story, but possibly my favorite one even though it’s a bit of a stretch starts with a partnership gone bad.

So Mr Printing Press himself, Johannes Gutenberg, had a business partner named Johann FUST – and no, I don’t know if you were required to be named John to work in the printing business. After his invention started revolutionizing the world, Big G started getting a big head. FUST got annoyed with Gutenberg’s attitude so he up and left one day. And he didn’t leave empty handed…he took all the machinery.

Right around this time the French court of Louis XI needed some new bibles. FUST nabbed up the commission. He also nabbed a fair amount of extra money for this commission because he told the king and all the king’s men that the bibles would be hand copied. This was how books were made before the printing press, and because it took a lot more work, it raised the price of each book.

After a reasonable amount of time FUST delivered the books…probably with a guilty twitch to his ink-stained fingers.

So, you know how when you come home with new books from the library or bookstore and you have to thumb through all of them? Well, Louis who must have a huge book nerd, did the same thing. As he was flipping and enjoying that new book smell, Louis noticed all the bibles were eerily similar. Too similar. After all, hand copying is often accompanied with transcription errors, ink blotches, and other problems.

But all these bibles were the exact same.

Now you’re probably thinking an advisor should go up to Louis and say that, “Hey we got this guy FUST who used to work with that printer guy Gutenberg, maybe he printed these bibles.” But that didn’t happen. I mean, this was the king after all and you don’t go around telling the king he got duped. So, the only excuse for such perfection had to have been that the devil had his hand in the bibles’ creation. FUST who might have only been accused of fraud ended up being jailed for witchcraft…and I bet Gutenberg was laughing the whole time.

Anyway, in a very roundabout way, this supposedly led to the term printer’s devils.

What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Four (The Most Logical)

There’s a fourth and final story, one that combines legend with logic, and to me this one makes the most sense.

When printing presses started to spread out across Europe the printers decided they needed their own patron demon ( because, who doesn’t, right?). His name was Titivillus. This wasn’t a newbie on the demon block. He’d been the patron demon of scribes and was the go-to demon to blame when a scribe made a mistake in his manuscript copying. Talk about blame shifting.

In the printing world, Titivillus was a trickster who would sneak in and, when no one was looking, rearrange the type leading to misspelled words…which is an excuse I’m going to start using in my own books and newsletters! Since the assistants were the ones bringing the letters, those kids must be in league with this demon and therefore they earned the name of printers devils.

Not bad, right?

Exorcists Need Not Apply

Anyway, wherever their name came from, printers devils were hard working little lads well into the early 1900s. As different methods of setting type and more efficient ways of printing evolved, the need for devils declined and soon devils were gone from the print shop altogether.

And not one single exorcist was needed.

You Want One More, Don’t You?

So that’s it for printer’s devils. Or is it? With every episode I provide my newsletter recipients some extra tidbit related to the show. And with this episode, they’ll be getting one more printer devil story straight from 1960s television. If you’re not already part of the flock, sign up for The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact.

Update Time

Okay, one quick update to wrap things up. When I was first planning out this podcast, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my favorite shows and release episodes every single week. Now, if you saw the list of topics I’ve got jotted down in Ye Olde Podcast Notebook, you’d know I have plenty of material to do just that. What I don’t have is the time.

My primary focus, shall we say my day job, is writing and to keep churning out books, I’d basically have to give up on sleeping, eating, and cleaning out the guinea pig cages to be able to write, record, and edit a podcast episode every week. Hopefully, once I get the hang of all this podcasting busy work, I’ll be able to do weekly shows, but for now and probably for at least the first couple months, I’m going to keep myself from going bonkers by only doing biweekly shows which will appear every other Thursday.

Thanks and See You Later

Thanks for listening everyone. If you enjoyed this episode I’d love it if you could leave a review or simply tell someone about the show. If you do want to leave a review, you can do that in your favorite podcast app or on Podchaser, the IMDB of podcasts and I’ll toss a link to that in the show notes. Or, feel free to email me at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact. And, like I said, if you want to get even more out of each episode, be sure to subscribe to the book owl podcast newsletter on that same page.

Again, thanks for listening and I will hoot at you next time!

Credits

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

Episodes, Literacy

21. Getting a Feel for Braille

 

Happy Braille Literacy Month, everyone! We almost missed out on the celebrations, but The Book Owl discovered this important holiday just in time. In this episode discover what workshop accidents and Napoleon have to do with the history of one of the most intriguing forms of reading and writing.

Links Mentioned in This Episode

Like what you hear?

Transcript (or Roughly So)

Intro, Part One

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 this time around we’re looking at a special type of reading. Or rather, we’re not going to look at it, we’re going to get a feel for it. Because this type of reading isn’t done with the eyes. It’s not done with the ears. It’s done with the fingertips. And in some ways, we have Napoleon to thank for it.

Cheesy Sales Pitch

But before we jump into that I just have one quick reminder. If you’re listening to this episode on the day of its release, that would be 28 January 2021, or soon after, you have just a couple days left to grab the first box set of my historical fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles for a mere 99c.

This set includes The Trials of Hercules, The Voyage of Heroes, and The Maze of Minos and the sale ends on the 31st, so don’t dilly dally if you want to nab this deal. And of course, the links you need will be in the show notes.

Alright, onto the episode.

Intro, Part Two

So Happy Braille Literacy Month, everyone! That’s right, January is all about bringing awareness to this fascinating form of reading and writing. Why January? Well, because the creator of braille, Louis Braille (which I’m just going to say braille from now on so you don’t have to endure my horrible French) was born on 4 January 1809. 

Oh, and if you really want to get your braille celebrations going, you should have also celebrated World Braille Day which took place earlier in the month on Louis’s birthday. What? You missed it? Well, just be sure to mark it on your calendar for next year because I think once you hear how braille came to be, and the struggle it took to get it adopted, you might have a little more appreciation for it.

Warning

Now before we get too far into this episode, I’m going to say I’m not really great on my politically correct terms for things, so I will be using the word “blind” when referring to people who can’t see well or can’t see at all. So forewarning if that sort of thing offends you.

Okay, let’s get into this dotty madness.

A Quick Bit About Braille

I’m sure most listeners have come across braille writing some time in their lives. Of course I’m a big old word nerd, so I’ve always been fascinated by it and can’t resist running my fingers over it when ever I find a plaque, or a directory, or some museum signage that has a braille option. I simply can’t fathom how a person’s fingers interpret those dots into words, and when I can’t figure something out, it intrigues me even more.

But just in case you don’t have clue what braille is, it’s a block of raised dots that represent letters or groups of letters or sometimes entire words that are commonly used such as the, and, but, and that sort of thing.

The reader reads left to right, typically by running both index fingers over the dots. And each of these blocks consists of six dots that are arranged in two columns with three dots in each column, so imagine how the number six looks on dice. The letter or letter grouping then depends on which dots in that block are raised and which aren’t.

And braille isn’t its own language, its more of a translation. Which means it basically takes the letters and words of say English or French or German and transcribes them into these blocks of dots that can be read with your English, French, or German fingertips

And just because I was curious, I looked up the reading speed of braille reading versus eyeball reading and the average eyeball reader reads about 200 words a minute. Braille readers average about 125 words a minute, but some can reach speeds of 200 words a minute. Which again, blows my mind that your fingers can read that quickly.

But while all that’s interesting, the story of how braille came about is far more interesting. And it’s also where we come back to Napoleon.

Getting Dotty with Napoleon

So back in the early 1800s this little Corsican guy named Napoleon had made himself ruler of France. France is a pretty darn big country, but he wanted to expand his empire so he was going around starting fights with his neighbors. You know the type, right?

Well, Napoleon wanted to maintain the element of surprise, so he wanted his soldiers to be able to communicate at night so they could plan their maneuvers and be kept alert of any trouble from the enemy.

Trouble was, the enemies were no idiots. They were keeping an eye on Napoleon’s men. When a French soldier received a note, he’d light a lamp to see what it said and then, blam! The enemy sharpshooters would see the light, shoot in that direction, and well let’s just say it’s hard to follow orders or plan an attack when you die trying to read those orders or attack plans.

And here I picture Napoleon having a bit of a temper tantrum, kind of like the Napoleon character in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure when he’s bowling and he’s like Merde! Merde! Merde!. Luckily, unlike the Bill & Ted Napoleon, the real life Napoleon had Charles Babier working for him.

Babier came up with a system of what he called night writing. This consisted of a 12-dot block with raised dots to correspond to each letter or phonetic sound. And I think the 12 dots were in two columns, I can’t recall. 

It kind of worked, but it was slow going because people’s fingertips just couldn’t feel all the dots at once. Imagine as you’re reading, scanning a word, then having to go back over each letter one by one to understand what that word is and you’ll start to understand why Babier’s system worked, but was a painfully slow way to read more than just a quick missive.

But let’s pop over to another area of France.

You’ll Put Your Eye Out, Kid

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, on 4 January 1809. And a little warning for anyone who is squeamish, you might want to fast forward about 30 seconds.

Louis’s dad was a leatherworker and little Louis liked to hang out with papa in his workshop, and he even likes to try his own hand at working the leather.

One day when Louis is about three or four, papa isn’t paying attention as Louis is trying to use an awl to poke a hole in a scrap of leather. And Louis is getting into it, he’s down close and really scrutinizing his efforts. Well, the awl slips and pierces Louis in the eye. Yeah, I know. Cringe!!

A doctor is called, the wound is bound, but infection sets in and ends up spreading to his good eye, so he ends up blind in both eyes. And I bet Louis’s mom had a thing or two to say to Louis’s dad about child minding.

So back then it would have been easy to write Louis off as being an invalid who won’t amount to anything, But hoorah for mom because she treats Louis as if he’s no different than her other kids. And Louis thrives in the environment she creates for him. He becomes known for being a good pupil and for being exceptionally bright, so he ends up winning a scholarship to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. And I think this is when he was about 9 or 10 years old.

An Understanding Teacher

At the Royal Institute was an instructor named Valentin Hauy, who also founded the school. Hauy wasn’t blind, but he did understand the need to get his students reading. He came up with a system where he basically kept your same 26 Latin letters and raised them on the page using heavy paper that was embossed with the letters. The kids could read the books, but it was a slow way to read.

Also, to create just one of these books was really time-consuming and expensive and the books themselves were fragile and pretty damn huge just to fit all the test in. As such, the school only had three of them, but Louis read these books over and over. And another problem with hay’s system was, to make the books required these specialized copper dohickies to emboss the letters onto the paper, so it wasn’t convenient to get the students writing.

The Hauy system was flawed, but is did prove that touch could be used to read long passages of text, not just quick notes. He referred to it as “talking to the fingers with the language of the eye.”

Hauy, although his system wasn’t the greatest, was really a superstar for his students, especially gifted ones like Louis. Hauy even cut out leather templates of the letters of the alphabet. Louis would then take these and trace around them to write letters home every week. Which, wow, that’s some dedication to writing to your mom and I bet she really appreciated it.

A Fortuitous Visit

And it’s at the Royal Institute where Louis and Charles Babier’s stories come together. See, in 1821 or possibly 1820 — my sources were a bit unclear on exactly which because one said Louis was 11, which would be 1820, others say Babier showed up in 1821. Either way, Babier shows up at the Royal Institute to show off his night writing thingamajig, thinking it might be handy for the students, even though it was a clumsy system to use.

Louis, who had already been tinkering with his own system of writing for the blind, immediately recognizes the possibilities of Babier’s system and pinpointed the problems such as it being too complex for the human finger and that each block should represent a letter or group of letters, not a phonetic sound.

Louis sets about to working on how to perfect the dotty writing and in only a few years has cobbled out a functional way of writing and reading for the blind. And it really did work, as is evidenced by its still being used today. And just to show off, Louis also worked out a musical notation system for the blind. You know, in his spare time.

And I have to include this quote form Louis because it really does show off The Book Owl’s own belief in the important of reading and writing.

He said,

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”

Attitude Problem

By 1833, Louis has moved on from being a student at the Royal Institute to being a teacher there, instructing students in geometry, algebra, and history, while also playing the cello and the organ in churches across France. And you would think his system of writing and reading would have been snatched up and adopted by the Royal Institute without question.

Nope.

See, Hauy died in 1822 and his successor seemed to have the stereotypically French stubbornness against any type of change. He refused to alter any aspect of how the school operated, its course material, and most definitely not how its students would read and write. In fact, this guy was so stubborn, he actually fired another teacher, not Louis, for having a history book translated into braille. Sheesh!

But even though the school refused to adopt it, braille was spreading across France and by the 1880s would be embraced by much of the world. 

Short-Lived Genius

Unfortunately, although brilliant and talented, Louis wasn’t terribly healthy. When he was 40, he’d already been suffering an illness, possibly tuberculosis, for over a decade, and he had to retire. And in 1852, when he was only 43, he died. 

And still by this point, his system wasn’t being used at the Royal Institute. Finally, the students revolted and demanded Louis’s system be incorporated into the curriculum and voila!

And before we jump into some stats about braille today, Louis’s childhood home in Coupvray is now an official historic building that houses the Braille Museum. I’ll have a link in the show notes that has some information about it, if you want to check it out.

There’s also a large monument in his home town honoring him, and in 1953 on the 100th anniversary of his death Louis’s body was given the honor of being moved to the Pantheon in Paris. But, and I don’t know if this is touching or creepy, as a symbolic gesture, they left his hands buried in Coupvray. Yeah, make of that what you will.

So What About Braille Today

Well, I won’t go into all the details, but there has been a long progression of braille typewriters, with the first one being invented in 1892. But the style that really stuck around was developed in 1951 by David Abraham who was a woodworking teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind. It became known as the Perkins Brailler and it was so well-designed that the only real changes to this style of braille writing machine was to make it quieter and more portable.

Because of these writers, braille is more accessible than ever and you’d think it would be widely taught and used and all that. Well, unfortunately, funding for schools means braille is being taught less and less and braille literacy is plummeting, which is really sad because it is such a cool form of writing, and who knows, with as bad as my eyes are, I may need it one day.

So here’s the stats about all this. In 1960 about half of legally blind kids could read braille. And these numbers are for the US. In 2015, that number fell to only 9 percent. And some of this, as I mentioned has to do with schools no longer teaching braille, or teaching it far less. But there’s also the advent of screen readers and text-to-speech technology. 

But some of it also has to do with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which pretty much shut down schools for the blind and said the blind students should be educated in public schools, again, without providing extra resources or funding for that move or giving the students the specialized reading skills they might find handy.

The problem with braille illiteracy is, just like any illiteracy, we see a direct correlation between braille literacy and employment rates among blind people. Even though blind people can read paper or screen text with text-to-speech software, people who only read this way have a high rate of unemployment compared to those who read braille as well. Basically, if you’re blind and you’re braille illiterate, you’re statistically far more likely to be unemployed than a blind person who can read braille.

And of course, as with people who aren’t blind, this unemployment then trickles down to overall health and well-being, and is just no good for anyone. And for those of you who get the book owl podcast newsletter, I’ll toss the actual numbers in your bonus content this time around.

So with that go celebrate these last few days of Braille Literacy Month full of the knowledge that reading is super important but so is teaching people to read in the way that’s going to give them the best jump on life.

Updates

And speaking of reading, it’s time for updates. I know, weird transition. The Undead Mr Tenpenny is now in the hands of a fair number of early reviewers. And let me just say I am nervous! I’m literally having nightmares about this. Which is really crazy because if you asked me six months ago about this book I would have gone on and on about how much I loved it, how fun I thought it was, how much I thought it was going to be one of my best sellers. 

Now, after the last couple of my own read throughs, doubts finally nabbed hold. And they are not letting go! I feel like the writing is just rambling and makes no sense. I feel like all the effort I put in to setting a few things up in this first book, which don’t get explained until the second book, are going to leave readers confused and annoyed, and I’m just a basket case over the whole story, my writing style, and arghhh! And now I have to sit back and wait for the book to get torn apart by these early reviewers…I need wine. Lots of wine.

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that’s it for this dotty episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

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

Episodes, libraries

20. That Time a Fire Built a Library

 

We here at The Book Owl Podcast do NOT approve of book burning. However, there was a time in recent history when a fire was actually good for books, libraries, and for the book lovers of Chicago.

Links Mentioned in This Episode

Like what you hear?

Transcript (or Roughly So)

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.

Introduction, Part One

It’s a Sunday night in early October. The skies are dark, but also dry. In the past four months it’s only rained half the normal amount, and this drought has been going on for the past year.

A fireman rests, barely able to move from exhaustion. There’d been a raging fire the night before that took eighteen hours to put out. In the past week alone, twenty-four other fires have been dealt with. The fireman, his crew, and the horses who pull the steam-powered water engines are out of energy.

And then an alarm sounds. Another fire has ignited. But there’s no information coming of which direction to head. The delay would seal the fate of Chicago.

Introduction, Part Two

Well, that’s quit an ominous start to the podcast, isn’t it. And you’re probably wondering what in the world does the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 have to do with books. Especially since it happened in October. Where’s the books, where’s some sort of January event?

Don’t worry, if I weave this tale just right, it’ll all come around to books and to January. Or at least I hope so.

Before we jump into the episode, another big dose of gratitude goes to Jonny Pongratz for sharing several episodes of the podcast over on the Jaunts & Haunts blog. He’s also been plowing through my historical fantasy series Domna and posting some very favorable reviews for it on his blog. If you want to check out the blog and learn about Jonny’s fiction writing, I’ve dropped the link to his site in the show notes.

And just one quick reminder that this show is supported by you. So, please do check out the very inexpensive ways you can keep the episodes coming by heading to that Support the Owl link in the show notes.

Okay, cue the Billy Joel music, because it’s time to start a fire. No wait, Billy Joel said we didn’t start the fire. Well, that’s why this isn’t The Music Owl Podcast.

Come on, Baby, Light My Fire

So the fire that would become known as the Great Chicago Fire started on the 8th of October, 1871. It was a Sunday night about 8:00, and like I said, fires had been popping up all over the place for the past week in Chicago. But this particular fire got the upper hand.

Part of that was because the fire crews were completely done in. And this is saying a lot because at the time, with over 180 firemen, Chicago had one of the best fire departments in the US. But the firemen weren’t entirely to blame, it was mainly how the fire alarm system worked.

See, there were these fire call boxes scattered around the city. But your average Chicago Joe wasn’t allowed to access them. Instead only “upstanding” men of business or politics or society were given keys to the boxes. And the upstanding citizen in charge of the box nearest ground zero for the fire didn’t think he needed to send up the alarm.

Rather than pull the alarm, he got into a big old Karen-esque bickering session with the people telling him to sound the alarm. See, people don’t change.

Another part of the city’s fire defense system were watchtowers. I don’t know if the watchman was reading a book, dreaming about a special someone, or just taking a nap, but by the time the fires were spotted they had already gotten out of control, which was why they didn’t know what direction to tell the fires crews to head.

And, just as legend tells us, the fire did start at or near the O’Leary barn. The cow was blamed, but really sentiment toward the Irish was so disparaging in Chicago at the time that it became too easy to blame Irish immigrants for the destruction and so Kate O’Leary pretty much ended up living her life in disgrace after the fire.

And as a little side note, no one is really sure how the fire started in that barn, but in 1997, the Chicago City Council officially pardoned Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Better late than never, I guess.

A Rough Couple Days

Anyway, Chicago isn’t known as the Windy City for nothing. And the wind was blowing that night. Combine that with a city made mostly of wood plus a year-long drought and anything a wind-whipped ember touched was bound to go up in flames.

People began trying to flee the city and many took refuge by bodies of water, but even there, the ground became too hot to bear, so rather than by the water, people headed into the water. The fire was so bad, it was described as moving in sheets of flame that reached 1000 feet wide and 100 feet tall. I mean, you couldn’t even roast marshmallows with fire that bad.

Then, as if things aren’t bad enough, the fire reaches the gasworks building. Boom! More fire and the power went out. Then at three in the morning, the damn fire is so bad it ignites the waterworks station. The waterworks building, people. That’s some serious fire. This wiped out the pumps and cut off the water supply.

Rainy Relief Arrives

Things are not looking good for Chicago. Just like in forest wildfires, attempts were made to create firebreaks, but not by cutting down trees. They did it by blowing up buildings.

Nice try, but it didn’t work. The fire just kept on coming.

Finally, in the very early hours of Tuesday, rain started pouring. It finally put out the fires but by then an area 4 miles by 1 mile had been burned. 300 people died, over 17000 buildings were destroyed, and 70 miles of streets were left in ruins.

Worse yet for book lovers the Cobb’s Library lost 5000 books in the fire, and the Chicago Library Association lost a whopping 2 to 3 million books. Tragedy. Pure tragedy. I’ll give you a moment to grieve over that.

Okay, moving on…and no, that wasn’t the only book part of the episode.

What This Has to Do with Books

So obviously we know that Chicago rebuilt, and they rebuilt the city, not on rock and roll, but by using innovative designs and building materials — namely fireproof materials. But you don’t care about that. You’re probably still wondering what in the fiery bowels of Hades this has to do with books.

Well, we need to head over to London for a minute. See, across the pond word came in about the destruction, and a man named A.H. Burgess wanted to help out because he not only was a nice guy, but he also happened to like the city of Chicago. With the support of a member of Parliament and author by the name of Thomas Hughes, Burgess began a project called the English Book Donation. Yes, this is the book part!

They ended up gathering over 8000 books from people including some pretty high-ranking folks such as Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria herself. When Burgess sent the books over he included a statement that went,

“I propose that England should present a Free Library to Chicago, to remain there as a mark of sympathy now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness forever…”

Books with No Home

The problem with this brotherly kindness was Chicago had no actual library system.
Now I hear you saying, “But wait a minute, you just mentioned two libraries that lost millions of books.” You’re right, I did.

But those libraries were not free and open to the public. They were subscription, or members-only libraries and that really was the only type of library available in Chicago at the time.

But Burgess’s donation sparked a fire under the people of Chicago. Wait, there’s probably a better way to phrase that. It gave them the gumption to petition for a free library system that would be open to the public.

This petitioning eventually worked its way up the system to become the Illinois Library Act of 1872 that authorized tax-supported libraries throughout the state.

Unfortunately, this is government and it would take until 1873 for the first public library to actually open in Chicago.

A Library Opens!

And that library opened on the 1st of January 1873. I told you this episode had a January element to it. But the best part of this library was that it was started with about half the books donated because of the fire and was housed in an old water tank. And if you’re on the Book Owl Podcast mailing list, you’ll get a photo of that water tank library in the email that will go out with this episode. It really is a remarkable looking place.

But although clever and good looking, the tank wasn’t all that big and it wasn’t convenient for everyone in the growing city to get to. The trouble was, the city wasn’t building new libraries hadn’t over fist.

Instead, book depositories were created in existing businesses such as candy stores and drug stores, which I think is absolutely appropriate because books are definitely as addictive as candy and drugs. Anyway, how this worked was you’d put in a request to the main library and your stuff would be delivered by horse-drawn cart to the outpost nearest your home and then you’d go pick up your book. And people must have loved this system because over two-thirds of the Chicago Library’s circulation chem through these little outposts.

And just to wrap up, the city did eventually get a purpose-built library and let me just say, this was when they knew how to build a library. This thing had a domed ceiling, a grand staircase, and glass lamps designed by Tiffany’s. Swanky!

Books, Not Bells

So all this got me thinking about donations and what other libraries might have been started with donations. Of course, my own local library was started with the donations of both books and an entire house from Florence Ledding, but then I discovered the first public library in the US was started with book donations. And the story is kind of funny because that’s not what was asked for.

So this town in Pennsylvania named itself Franklin in a sort of, shall we say, butt kissing attempt to attract Ben Franklin’s attention. It did and he asked what he could do for the city. The city says, “Well we would just love a church bell to ding dong people into Sunday service.”

Ben Franklin, a possible atheist or at least agnostic, said, “Great, here’s a pile of books instead.” The town council decided not to complain and voted to lend the books to its citizens free of charge. And so, in 1790, what would become known as the Franklin Public Library opened.

And then, stupid me, I complete forgot about all the Carnegie libraries. Say what you will about him, but Andrew Carnegie loved books and he had a ton of money. The money he donated founded over 2500 libraries that were built between 1883 and 1929. And these things are everywhere. Most are in the US, but you’ll also find them in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, and more.

Got Extra Books??

And if your New Year’s Resolution is to clean up some of your bookshelves, there’s plenty of places you can donate them beside Goodwill. You may not have enough to found your own library, but if you want to check out a few places that would love your books and will put them to good use, you can find a link to a post on the blog about that very thing.

Okay that is it for fires, for Ben Franklin, and for book donations. And that means it’s update time

Update – It’s Release Day!!!

The big update is that this past Tuesday, 12 January, was release day for the second box set of my historical fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles. This set includes books four through six plus a ton of bonus material to really bring you into this world where the myths of Ancient Greece come to life as you’ve never seen them before.

The series has just gotten all new covers that I think really show off the stories and the tone perfectly. And as a little promo push to lure you guys into the books, I’ve priced the first box set, that’s books one through three, to 99c for the month of January. The normal price is $5.99, so this is a pretty stellar deal if you want to give the series a try.

Plus, if you purchase that box set from my Payhip Bookstore, you’ll get a 15% discount on the second boxset. So go pop over to that link in the show notes and venture into a world where myths come to life as you’ve never seen them before. No, really, go to the link now. Show’s over. What are you waiting for?

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that really is it for this episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.