Literacy

Happy World Literacy Day

Hello Book Nerds!

I know it’s not the Book Owl’s usual posting day, but I just wanted to share the excitement of World Literacy Day with you!

So what’s the day all about? Well, the fine folks over at Wikipedia have this to say…

“8 September was declared international literacy day by UNESCO on 26 October 1966 at 14th session of UNESCO’s General conference. It was celebrated for the first time in 1967. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.”

And since I (aka “The Book Owl”) love being able to read and think reading is one of the best pastimes EVER, I wanted to celebrate by sharing a couple podcast episodes in which I cover a little bit of literacy, the importance of being a reader, and the strange historical course of inventions that help keep people reading to this very day.

The first is Episode 3 in which the Book Owl delves into that age-old question, the quandary that has stumped philosophers and scientists for centuries, the issue I’m sure has been keeping you up at night….

Do dogs know how to read?

Spoiler alert…no, they don’t, but they can listen which is why our canine buddies are regularly invited into libraries to help build better readers. How does this work? Who came up with the idea? How can you get involved? Find out in Episode 3: Is That A Dog in the Library?!!

Note: I was still getting the hang of things with Episode 3, so the sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still worth a listen.

Then we have Episode 8: The Story of Seeing Clearly in which I take a peek at the amazing combination of historical events that turned eyeglasses from a luxury item used only by the wealthy to a household commodity (and requisite accessory for many readers…including myself).

From imprisoned Venetians to curing syphilis, the history of eyeglasses is more intriguing than it might seem at first glance (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Those show links will take you to the episode’s listening page where you’ll also find links to the show’s transcript, in case you know, you wanted to actually read on World Literacy Day!

Enjoy!!!!

Episodes, Museums

11. Chester Beatty’s Marvelous Manuscripts

A rich guy goes around buying up a bunch of stuff. That’s not exactly news, is it? Well, when the guy is Chester Beatty and his shopping expeditions ended up creating and preserving the most extensive collection of ancient papyrus, Middle Eastern illuminated manuscripts, and many other book-related treasure, it draws attention.

In this episode of the Book Owl Podcast we explore how Chester got bit by the collecting bug, how he earned his wealth, and how he thumbed his nose at the British Museum and moved his goodies to Dublin, Ireland.

 

Links mentioned in this episode…

Like what you hear?

The Full 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.

Okay, so we got a little silly in the last episode, but it’s time to get back to, you know, serious business with the story behind a book-filled wonderland that Lonely Planet has called one of the best museums in Europe, and was honored with the Museum of the Year Award in 2002. And after having visited this place myself a ew years ago, I have to agree…although, a bit later I’ll explain what NOT to do when you go there.

But before we start exploring, I just want to say how much I loved all your comments from Episode 9 when we went rolling along with the Bookmobile. And this episode really did kick up some happy memories for you guys. Both Teresa and LaVelle recalled how excited they’d were to see the Bookmobile coming to their neighborhoods. And Jonny of the Jaunts & Haunts blog shared his memories of the Bookmobile, but as we chatted back and forth he also stirred up my own memories when he mentioned the little Scholastic book catalogs you’d get in class. I could spend hours with those things! Also, Tierney of Tierney Creates said our mutual love of the Bookmobile makes us fellow book geeks…an honor I will gladly accept.

Anyway, thanks so much for your comments, and keep them coming. I’ll throw the links in the show notes, but you can comment any time on the Book Owl Podcast blog, on Instagram, by email, or by responding to the newsletter that goes out with every episode and that you should really subscribe to.

Okay, let’s go check out this museum everyone’s raving about. The museum in question is the Chester Beatty and it’s located in the fine city of Dublin, Ireland. 

I’ll get into what you’ll actually see there a later in the episode, but basically this museum houses 25,000 highly artistic manuscripts, rare books, and the world’s most extensive collection of texts on papyrus. Don’t worry, not all 25,000 objects are on display, but what is on display will knock your book nerdy socks off.

Now, as I said, this place is called the Chester Beatty and everything on display is something he collected during his lifetime. But who the hell is Chester Beatty? As I said, I’ve been to the museum, and I still had no idea who he was, so researching this episode was a wonderful bit of discovery.

So Chester was born in 1875, and he was not born into wealth by any means. I mean this guy built himself up from a fairly modest background. In 1898, he graduated from the Columbia School of Mines, which does not like a terribly interesting course of study, but anyway he knew about mines and he needed to put that knowledge to use, so he headed west to Colorado…where like any college grad, he got a grunt job. And in the mining world, that meant digging and clearing rubble from tunnels.

But Chester was no slouch and within only five years he was part of the management team of the Guggenheim Exploration Company, which kind of makes it sound like he should have been going to Antarctic or something, but no, sorry still just Colorado. In this position he not only earned his normal wage, but he also got sort of a profit-sharing deal. So, by the time he was 32, our Chester was a millionaire.

So, I won’t overwhelm you with all the details of his career, but by 1908, he’s left the Guggenheim operation, he’s returned home to New York, and he’s set himself up with his own very profitable consulting business for mining engineers. What could be better? He’s doing great, right? Well, Chester’s life takes a sad turn when his wife of 12 years dies of typhoid.

It’s really too much for Chester. He can’t bear to be in the house they shared any longer, so not long after her death, he packs up the kids and moves to a house he’s bought in London’s Kensington Gardens…swanky! About a year after moving to London, Chester remarries and it really is a great match because they both turn out to be avid collectors.

See, even as a kid Chester loved to collect and he’d go to auctions and bid on rock and ore samples from mining expeditions to add to his collection. While he was in Colorado, he also started collecting stamps, Chinese snuff boxes, Japanese figurines, and most importantly for this episode, ancient documents on papyrus and Islamic manuscripts. And while his career in mining did require some travel, it was really some health troubles that helped him satisfy his pack rat nature.

Chester had some trouble with his lungs and a dry climate helped with that, so he would winter in places like Egypt, but he was also vastly rich, so on his way home, he’d pop over to Japan and Southeast Asia, you know, as you do.

Anyway, back to the thread of the story. As I said, Chester was already raking it in, but when he moved to London he joined a mining compact. During the 1920s the members of this compact took a risk on some mines in Zambia and the Congo. Well, the risk paid off and they discovered copper. The already rich Chester was now super duper rich…and using that money to travel more and add to his manuscript collection.

By now Chester is fully infected with the collecting bug, and by the 1930s he had a strong reputation as a reputable collector. He only bought the finest pieces of work. To help him out, he had agents and advisors who made sure what he was buying was authentic and from trusted sources. This network of agents and his own searches gathered illuminated copies of the Quran; manuscripts from the Mughals, the Turks, and the Persians; as well as ancient works written in Armenian, Greek, Burmese, and more.

And Chester wasn’t just snatching these things up like some crazed Scrooge McDuck swimming in his room full of gold coins. Okay, that was a bad analogy because you can’t really swim in manuscripts, but you get the idea. He wasn’t just buying these texts to say, “Haha, look what I’ve got.” He actually consulted with people on how best to preserve them and in 1934, he converted a portion of his Kensington House into a library and gallery for people to look at these amazing works which were probably from cultures that most people at the time thought backwards or uncivilized.

Oh, and I mentioned his wife was a collector too. Her passion was for antique furniture and paintings, and she actually preserved several pieces of original furnishings that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

But back to Chester. He’s rich. He’s got lots of stuff. He’s got a stellar reputation as a collector. And he wanted to share his findings. So starting in the 1920s he worked with and shared his finds with the British Museum. And all along he’d been planning on leaving his collection, which was pretty substantial and worth a ton by this point, to the British Museum when he died.

Then, kind of a double whammy of things got on the wrong side of Chester. First up, as with most rich people, he didn’t like taxes. In the 1940s, Britain changed their tax structure in a way that Chester didn’t really like. But the thing that really pushed Chester too far was the hiring of a new director at the British Museum. This guy didn’t not agree with Chester’s involvement…involvement in his own collection, mind you. The new director questioned the quality of Chester’s collection, he insisted he would have the final say in everything, and he insisted the collection only be shown in the British Museum. 

Well, Chester didn’t like this one bit. Go figure. So, in 1950, he took his collection and his vast amounts of wealth, and moved to Dublin…partially because Ireland had a much more favorable tax structure and partially because his son was already living in Kildare County.

Unlike the British Museum, the Irish weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Chester put his collection on display in a purpose built library/museum in a suburb of Dublin and opened it to share with the public in 1953. But that wasn’t the end of it. Chester also bequeathed his entire collection to the people of Ireland. Not too shabby a gift. And a big FU to the British Museum.

The Irish, possibly learning from the British Museum’s mistake, showed their appreciation. Chester not only was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of Ireland (this was in 1954), but when he died in 1968, he was the first private citizen to be honored with a state funeral. 

So in 2000, the original library was closed down and the collection moved into its own gallery in Dublin Castle. And I have to say, if you’re ever allowed to travel again and you’re in Dublin, get yourself to this exhibit. First up, it’s free which means you’ll have money for a pint of Guiness. Second, it’s incredible.

It’s been described as one of the best collections of Western, Islamic, and Southeast Asian artifacts. And while there are a lot of religious texts on display, the religion is not what’s emphasized, it’s the art and the calligraphy and the beauty of the texts themselves. 

There’s two main exhibits, Arts of the Book and Sacred Traditions, and you might also catch a rotating exhibit, but what you’ll see includes Greek papyrus from the third century, Japanese scrolls that seem to go on forever, Biblical texts in various languages, illustrated texts from the Middle East and Moghul India on religion, medicine, and astronomy, A full collection of Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, and yes, Chester’s snuff boxes from his Colorado collecting days.

Now, here’s where we get to the warning, one thing you must not do if you ever do get a chance to go: Don’t make my mistake and forget your glasses. I could see well enough to enjoy the art of the illustrations, but I could not read a damn thing on any of the display information thingies. 

Anyway, like I said, it’s free and you shouldn’t miss it, but since most of us can’t get to Dublin right now, you can satisfy your curiosity by taking a virtual tour of the collection on the museum’s website, which is really a stellar site and you can read it in Gaelic if you’re so inclined. And I recommend cracking open a Guiness as you spend some time on the virtual tour, you know, just to add to the experience.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for Chester and his fabulous collection. I’ll have the links in the show notes for everything so you can check out the museum and take that virtual tour, but right now, it’s time for quick update.

And I will make this quick because we’ve already gone on a fair bit of time. The big news is I have mostly finished Book Two of my Cassie Black trilogy. Hoorah! I was really scared heading into this draft because there was a lot of missing stuff that needed filled in, but I squeezed my brain hard enough and the words eventually popped out. In other news, I’ve been having a big think and taking in some good advice and I’m rethinking my entire approach to writing, including scaling back on some things, pushing harder on others, and honestly, I’m feeling really excited about putting it all into place, even if it is going to take a bit of a mindset shift.

Anyway, if you want more of my writing news, I’ve got a link in the show notes for that newsletter.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com

libraries, podcast

The Story of the Bookmobile: From Perambulators to Pack Animals

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s Episode 9 and while sweet tooths may think the ice cream truck is the best vehicle ever invented, we book nerds know they’re wrong because the Bookmobile can’t be beat.

In this episode we journey from the first traveling libraries all the way to clever ways people today are ensuring everyone gets a chance to fall in love with books.

Behind the Scenes

As mentioned in the episode, I’ve been a book nerd ever since I was a little kid and I LOVED it when the Bookmobile would pull up to my school.

But since Bookmobiles rarely trundle their way through the city these days, I hadn’t given them much thought until I started flipping through Jane Mount’s book for book nerds, Bibliophile.

In one section she shows off a few ways people around the world are getting their books beyond libraries and bookstores. That got the wheels turning in my brain and made me curious to learn how the Bookmobile started.

I discovered several things I never knew about my beloved Bookmobile and, if you’re a book nerd at heart, you’re going to love this episode.

Enjoy!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen right in your browser, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. And remember, all these listening options are completely free!!

 

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Images…

I usually save images as bonuses for my newsletter subscribers, but since they’re getting something extra special this time around, I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos related to the episode.

Of course, if you’d like to join the flock and get regular bonus tidbits, be sure to sign up today to get the Book Owl in your inbox every other week.

bookmobile, portland oregon, multnomah county
This model was a little before my day, but here’s one of the old Multnomah County Bookmobiles. Image from the Multnomah County Library.

 

It’s the Biblioburro! And there’s Luis in the yellow shirt. Image from Wikipedia.

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.

It’s episode 9 and while people with a sweet tooth may think the ice cream truck is the best vehicle ever invented, us book nerds know they’re wrong. 

Before we start, a couple quick business matters. So first, right now, or as soon as you safely can, be sure to click that subscribe button in whatever podcast app you’re listening in, or if you’re watching this on YouTube, well there’s a subscribe button right under the video eagerly waiting for your click. It’s super simple and ensures you won’t miss a single episode. Plus, it makes me happy.

The second business-y matter would not only make me happy, but it could make you Book Owl famous (which is nothing like being truly famous, sorry). If you have a topic you’d like covered in the show, all you have to do is send me a message using the contact link you’ll find in the episode notes. So if there’s a bookstore, author, or book you’re curious about but you’re too lazy to do the research yourself, toss those quandaries my way and I’ll do the research for you. And I’ll mention you in the episode as a way to say thanks.

Okay, that’s enough business, because what do I see coming up the road? Yes! It’s the BookMobile. 

So at its heart, the Bookmobile is a way to bring library books to people who live where it’s hard to get to a library, such as rural areas, or to bring books to people who might have a tough time getting out, such as residents of senior homes. But as a kid I have fond memories of the Bookmobile trundling up to the school. 

Now, keep in mind, I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and no matter where you lived, you had easy access to one of the branches of the Multnomah County library system. But I guess the library wanted to spark kids’ interest in reading and so every now and then (never often enough in my opinion), the this big sort of acid green BookMobile truck would appear. And sometimes I was the only kid in there…and sometimes they’d have to ask me to leave so they could go on to their next stop. Seriously, I’ve always been a book nerd.

Anyway, the bookmobile goes by a gob of different names such as the traveling library, the book wagon, the book truck, the book auto service (which has to be the worst), and the library on wheels (which is now my favorite). And as we’ll see later, the bookmobile isn’t just limited to four-wheeled things with engines. Book nerds are out spreading their book nerd ways via donkey, camel, hand-wheeled cart, and more.

But how did this start? The short answer…I don’t know. Books and scrolls have been transported between libraries pretty much since libraries began, but these transfers were mainly to bring the items for scholarly study, not for sharing with the masses. However, I can imagine that as books became less expensive and easier to make, and as literacy rates increased, that there were probably people carrying around books to loan out to others.

Of course, that’s just my guess. The first system that was a sort of prototype bookmobile came about in 1839, when the American Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (which totally sounds like a creepy organization from a George Orwell story) created the American Library School which wasn’t actually a school, it was a set of fifty books that cost $20, which is about $580 in 2020 dollars. 

The set included books on history, biographies, a novel (yes, one novel), health, science, Christianity, travel memoirs, and more. These sets came in a wooden case and were intended for schools to have a set course curriculum that could be followed country wide, but they were also carted around the frontier lands as a traveling library. And if you ever make it to the Smithsonian Museums, you can see the only complete set in its original box.

But we have to wait until 1857 and we have to jump the pond over to England to find the next evidence of an early Bookmobile. This one had the perfectly British name of a Perambulating Library and it could be found perambulating a circuit through eight villages in Cumbria in northwestern England. The idea was sponsored by a philanthropist by the name of George Moore who, as would later be the mission of the modern Bookmobile, wanted to spread the written word to rural populations. And, based on other perambulating libraries around this time, I’m going to guess that George’s books were pulled by horse or some other cooperative four-legged animal, although he could have had people walking with them.

Okay, now we’re zipping back across the pond because in the early 1900s, we start to see the first true traveling libraries popping up in the U.S. 

One of the first was started by a librarian from Maryland named Mary Titcomb (insert childish joke of your choice). So her library wasn’t exactly a library. It was basically a box of books that were left at 23 public locations such as the post office or grocery stores for people to borrow from. Well, Mary realized this didn’t do much good for the people who didn’t come into to town regularly, so she arranged for a book wagon to take reading material directly to people’s homes. And I like to think that any fines were probably paid in apples for the horses who drew the wagon.

Of course, in the US most of our Bookmobiles now come around on four wheels instead of four legs. The first motor-powered bookmobile came about in 1920. Yet again, we have a librarian to thank for her ingenuity because Sarah Askew redesigned her Model T and started driving books around rural areas of New Jersey.

But our four-legged friends weren’t out of work yet. After the Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the WPA, began the Pack Horse Project. This ran from 1935 to 1943 and used pack animals to bring books and a few other necessities into the deepest parts of the mountains of Kentucky and the Appalachia area. Known as packhorse librarians, these folks were sometimes the only outside contact for the insular mountain residents.

But as we saw at the beginning, bookmobiles weren’t limited to bringing books to rural areas. In the 1960s, in the Bronx, an interracial team of librarians started the Library in Action program to bring books to kids of color who may not have had access to books or libraries otherwise.

Have I mentioned how cool the bookmobile program is??

Anyway, the Bookmobile programs reached their height in the US in the 1950s to 1970s, when there were well over 1000 vehicles bringing books to kids and adults. These days there’s only about 600 of them left. It’s not that people don’t still love the idea, but budget cuts, easy access to online resources, and environmental concerns are eating away at the bookmobile. However, there may be hope for our beloved BookTruck. New ones are being outfitted with solar powered batteries and hybrid engines. 

And hey, we still have a National Bookmobile Day every April, so maybe there’s still hope for the Bookmobile.

Or perhaps we need to think outside the four-wheeled box on this one because as I mentioned earlier, there are many ways people around the world are getting books to people. And for this next bit, I have to give thanks to Jane Mount’s book Bilibophile.

If you don’t want four wheels, maybe you prefer three. The Il Bibliomotocarro is a three-wheeled book truck driven by former schoolteacher Antonio La Cava. He fills it with books and drives 300 miles each week to bring reading material to kids in southern Italy. Or maybe you prefer to go back to our four-legged friends. Well, in Colombia there’s the Biblioburro that was started by another schoolteacher. Luis Soriano was feeling a bit down that his students didn’t have books at home, so now he and his two donkeys Alfa and Beta bring books to them. In Kenya and Mongolia, you can find camels doing the same thing…although they’re probably a bit grumpier about it. Or perhaps you just want to keep your feet on the ground and get your 10,000 steps in. Well, you can make like Martin Murillo, again of Colombia, who loves reading so much, he brings books to one and all with his La Carreta Literaria. And if you’re feet get tired, do as Martin does and stop to read the kids a story.

Okay, that’s it for the Bookmobile. 

And now I’m tossing it over to you. Do you have memories of the Bookmobile? Does your area still have bookmobiles? I want to hear from you, so be sure to use that contact info in the show notes to drop me a line. And who knows, if I need to fill up some audio space, I might just read your comment in a future episode. Oh, and those of you who are signed up for The Book Owl newsletter are going to get a link to some great images of historic bookmobiles from around the world, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Again, that’s it for the show, which means it’s time for updates. If you’re done, thanks so much for listening. If not, here we go.

I don’t really have any podcast news other than the next episode is number 10 and I’ve got something fun lined up for that one. As I mentioned in the newsletter and the blog last time, I’ve updated all the old episodes as best I could to improve the sound quality. They’re still not perfect, but they are better. 

As for writing. There’s a lot of news coming up in this realm of my creative life. From release dates, to audiobooks, to learning some new tricks, I could fill up a whole hour just covering it all. But instead of doing that, if you’re interested, I’m just going to encourage you to either follow my writing blog or to sign up for my writing newsletter (you’ll get a free story if you do), and surprise surprise those links are in the show notes.

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. Keep on truckin’ with the Bookmobile and I will hoot at you next time.

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

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Literacy, podcast, reading

The History of Eyeglasses: What Venice, Monks, and Syphilis Have to Do with Seeing Clearly

Hello Book Nerds!

It’s Episode 8 and this time we’re taking a peek at the amazing combination of historical events that turned eyeglasses from a luxury item used only by the wealthy to a household commodity.

From imprisoned Venetians to curing syphilis, the history of eyeglasses is more intriguing than it might seem at first glance (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Quick Update

In the update portion of the episode I mention that I’ve reworked Episodes 2 & 3 to try to improve the sound quality. Well, I’m happy to say, that all previous episodes have now been updated.

Again, they’re still not perfect, but they are a bit better. I’ve just gotten a new, highly recommended microphone, so hopefully my sound quality issues will continue to fade away.

Thanks for sticking with me during this learning process!

Behind the Scenes

I’ve had the idea for this episode since the show started, and I honestly hadn’t planned for an episode on eyeglasses to match up to an episode whose number (on its side) looks like a pair of eyeglasses.

But that’s just another of the happenstance events that kept cropping up as I researched the story of eyewear.

I’d heard about the Venetian glassmakers from the writer Steven Johnson, and I recalled something about glasses and paper making from James Burke in his book The Day the Universe Changed.

But as the research continued, I couldn’t believe the way the dates from an Arabic text to the printing press fell into place one after the other, leading to glasses being such a common item. More than once it left me thinking, “Wow, that is a crazy bit of luck.”

Anyway, I hope you find the episode as fascinating as I did researching it. Enjoy!!!

As usual, clicking the image below will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options.

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

Images…

I usually save images as bonuses for my newsletter subscribers, but since they’re getting something extra special this time around, I thought I’d include photos with this post to help give you a better idea of a few things mentioned in Episode 8.

Of course, if you’d like to join the flock and get regular bonus tidbits, be sure to sign up today to get the Book Owl in your inbox every other week.

A stylish pair of an example of the first eyeglasses. (Image from the California Optometric Assoication)
Tommaso da Modena’s painting of Cardinal Hugh St. Cler wearing his spectacles. (Image from Wikipedia, public domain)
Stylin”!!! (Image from Wikipedia, public domain)

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.

It’s episode 8 and if you turn the number 8 on its side, what’s it look like? Okay, it kind of looks like a drunken snowman who’s toppled over, but it also resembles something that makes reading possible for about 65% of the population.

Before we jump into this episode I just want to remind you that if you have been enjoying the show, you can help keep the episodes coming in several inexpensive ways. Whether it’s buying the Book Owl a virtual cup of coffee or sending the owl a monthly snack, your support is very much appreciated. So, if you have an extra couple dollars or euros or pounds, please head over to thebookowlpodcast.com/support. And yes, that link will be in the show notes.

Alright let’s get a closer look at toppled over snowmen. No, wait, sorry. Take two. Let’s take a look at eyeglasses.

Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, how boring and off topic can you get. Isn’t this show supposed to be about books.”

Well, okay, to look at them, glasses aren’t the most exciting things on the planet (although Elton John’s collection might be the exception), but glasses happened to coincide with a couple of other inventions to truly boost literacy and people’s love of the written word.

But the first glasses, kind of like Elton John’s, weren’t used for reading. It was all about style. See, the Emperor Nero, he liked to wear emerald lenses, and that’s emerald the actual gem, not emerald tinted. Anyway he wore these to gladiator fights because he believed they offered some sort of health benefit. And if the emperor did it, the masses soon followed, so Nero may have started the first optical wear fashion trend.

But that has nothing to do with reading.

The idea of using a curved lens to magnify things probably came about soon after glass was invented. I mean it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to picture a glassmaker setting a piece of work down and noticing whatever was underneath looked bigger, right?

And back in the 2nd century Ptolemy was already writing about this very phenomenon, but it wouldn’t be put to much use until the Arab scholar Ibn al-Heitam in the 10th century first suggested that glass could be used to aid with visual problems as people aged. Unfortunately, he didn’t push this idea and it wasn’t until his book of optics was translated into Latin in the 1200s that the idea took hold.

Now this was back when monks would spend their entire days in scriptoriums copying books letter by letter, often very tiny letter by letter. If you’ve ever seen these manuscripts. So, once a monk reached a certain age, his vision would be fried and he could no longer do this work. When al-Heitam’s book of optics was translated, older monks quickly adopted the idea of using reading stones so they could continue to scribble away and feel useful. And when I say quickly I mean quickly because within only a few years of al-Heitam’s book being translated, people were already writing of using lenses “to read the smallest letters.”

But to start, as I said, these lenses weren’t true lenses, they were just reading stones. And these things were about an inch thick and maybe four inches in diameter and made of rock crystal and quartz that was curved on one side and flat on the other. You would then place flat side on a page and move along enlarging the words underneath as you read.

Meanwhile, right about this same time over on the islands that make up Venice, a renaissance of glassmaking was happening. And competition was fierce between the glassmakers to come up with the best techniques to make the best glass possible. That competition was so strong the guild masters kept their glassmakers, or cristalleri, basically as prisoners on the island they happened to work on. This kept the cristalleri from flouncing around on gondolas spilling trade secrets to the cristalleri on another island.

The rules were so strict that if a cristalleri left his island, he could face death. It was a bit over the top, but this forced isolation meant intense collaboration and their glassmaking skills skyrocketed.

This boon in glassmaking not only meant clearer glass, but also thinner glass that could be shaped more precisely. No source I could find knew who first took that better quality glass, stuck it into a wooden holder, and used it it help people see better, or exactly when but most sources are certain it happened in Italy. What we do know is that in 1306, Giordano of Pisa gave a sermon in which he’s quoted as saying, “It is not 20 years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses.”

And I’m going to guess that this probably happened near Venice because by the time this sermon was given there already were records on the books in which the Venice guilds regulated the sales of eyeglasses.

These glasses weren’t what we have today that fit neatly on your face. Instead, two lenses were set in two separate wooden frames. These frames were then attached at the base to kind of pivot so you could open them to fit the width of your eyes. Which is probably why we say a pair of glasses.

Anyway it’s a monk who was the subject of the first painting to show someone wearing these glasses. The painting dates from 1352 – I know, so many dates, sorry. The painting was done by Tommaso da Modena and it shows Cardinal Hugh St. Cler with a pair of these glasses balanced on his nose as he’s working away on a document.

And it’s kind of significant that we’ve got a cardinal in the painting. See, glasses weren’t cheap. There was no $49 special being offered at the Lenscrafters or anything. Glasses were a luxury item that signified wealth and power and were owned only by a few of the elite.

But, remember Giordano of Pisa? Well he had a colleague by the name of Friar Alessandro Della Spina who didn’t think this was fair. I mean, literacy rates were pretty low, but those who did read really needed to read even after they managed to live to the ripe old age of forty when many peoples’ eyes start getting wonky. Of course, mine have been wonky since I was three, but that’s a whole issue in itself.

Anyway Alessandro somehow dipped his hands in the lens making business and made pairs of glasses for whoever needed them. And Giordano, while delivering a good bit of marketing for his friend, also proved he was a bit snarky because he said, “Glasses were first made by someone who didn’t want to share. Spina made them and shared them with everyone with a willing and cheerful heart.” Good on you, Spina!

Glasses still weren’t owned by the masses, but they were being seen and used more frequently.

So this is all happening in the second half of the 1300s. That’s also right about the time when Europeans were figuring out how to make paper cheaper and more efficiently. Since books had been made with parchment or vellum, which was expensive and laborious to make, this paper making set up things perfectly for things to come. Because when the 1400s role around, our friend Johannes Gutenberg invents his printing press. Books and journals, which had all been hand copied before and were insanely expensive, suddenly dropped in price and became more plentiful.

People wanted that printed material. But they also wanted to be able to read it, and thanks to the eyeglass business loosening up, glasses were also more plentiful and soon became a household commodity.

I just love it when history things like this fall into place like that. I mean think about how amazing this blend of events is. You’ve got an Arabic book on optics being translated, monks latching on to the idea of being able to keep working into old age, the lockdown of glass makers forcing them to improve their craft, the invention of glasses, a more efficient way to make paper, and the printing press all coming together.

If any one of those things hadn’t happened, maybe the printing press would have needed longer to take off and maybe reading would have languished behind another couple hundred years, which might have delayed the Renaissance and other leaps in thinking. Who knows, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that only a couple decades after the printing press was first invented that the first eyeglasses shop opened up in Strasbourg….the city where the printing press was born.

So just to wrap up a couple more moments in glasses history, up to this point people knew lenses needed to be convex to do their trick, but no one really understood why. In 1604 Johannes Kepler – he’s the guy who figured out the planets travel in elliptical orbits – also figured out the different properties and uses of convex versus concave lenses, and about 20 years later in Spain someone figured out how to create different grades of lenses for different vision problems.

Of course through all this we’re still stuck with the pivoting style frames you’d have to balance on your nose or hold in front of your eyes. It would be the 1700s before glasses got arms and were held together by a bridge across the nose. Yeah, they didn’t exactly rush into that invention.

And now comes my favorite bit of glasses trivia… in the 1800s lenses were tinted green, not in honor of Emperor Nero’s fashion sense, but because they believed it cured syphilis. Who knows, maybe that’s why Nero wore his emerald lenses.

Okay, back to what this has to do with books. Some of you lucky listeners may not need glasses to read, but 75% of adults need some sort of vision correction and 65% of those wear reading glasses. We know that kids with undiagnosed vision issues are resistant to reading, lag behind in school, and may never learn to enjoy books. I personally wouldn’t be able to read anything but the largest of large print books without my glasses. So, in my opinion, glasses are a vital part of literacy and enjoying books and in being a life long reader.

And let me wrap up with a little public service announcement. If you have old eyeglasses sitting around in a drawer you can clear out that drawer by donating your glasses to several charities including Unite for Sight, Eyes of Hope, the Lions Club, and many others. Usually your optometrist will have a drop off box as will eyeglasses shops.

Okay everyone, that is it for the show. If you want to stick around for my update, that would be great, if not, thanks for listening and I will hoot at you next time!

As far as podcast news goes, along with episode 3 which I told you about last time, I have now updated episode 2 and tried to fix an issue I had with the volume level. The trouble I have is that some of these sound issues don’t come through on my audio software and are only apparent after the file is uploaded onto the podcast sites. So, it’s kind of a nightmare to hunt down these problems. Anyway, it’s still not perfect, but until I get motivated to completely re-record these first episodes, it’ll have to do.

In my writing world, I have finished the edits on both my short story I wrote in June and on the first book of my Cassie Black trilogy. I’ll be reading over the book this week for what I hope is the last time. I also have a bunch specials going on this month, including some half price deals on my box sets, so if you want to try out my work and save some money, I’ll have a link in the show notes that will direct you to a post where I’ve listed all my deals for the month.

Alright, that really is it. Thanks so much for listening and be sure to get your eyes checked!!

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

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Love books? Try something new!

From thrillers to romance, ebooks to audiobooks, over 100 books are making their debut this month. Check out what’s new and exciting for July! 

Book History, Journalism, podcast

Fake News – The 1835 Version

Hello Book Nerds!

Fake news is nothing new, but it used to be a lot more fun. In this episode of the podcast, we  launch ourselves into some out of this world reporting from 1835 when The New York Sun published six articles that captured the world’s overactive imagination.

It’s a story that combines Edgar Allan Poe, the astronomer John Herschel, tailless beavers, and even Batman, and I know you’re going to love it.

Behind the Scenes

I had never heard of the Great Moon Hoax until about a month ago when I was looking over a book about steampunk culture (for research for a possible future writing project). A little side story in the book told about a hoax article Edgar Allan Poe had written back in the 1840s.

Since I’d recently read something about a bit of journalism flimflam that took place in Oregon in the late 1800s/early 1900s this got me curious about other news hoaxes. And that brought me to find the Great Moon Hoax.

To say I enjoyed this story is a complete understatement. Talk about laughing out loud. After the serious tone of the last episode, it was just what I needed. Of all the episodes so far (and I know there’s only six), this was my absolute favorite to research, write, and record.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy listening!!

One more note, subscribers to The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter get a bonus treat with every episode…and this time it’s images from the Great Moon Hoax articles! You don’t want to miss these or any future goodies, so do be sure to sign up today.

Clicking the image will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. If you’d like to read along, a rough transcript is a bit lower down.

Listening links…

Links mentioned…

The 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.

It’s episode six and this time we’re stepping away from books and wandering into the wild world of journalism and newspapers. Now, if you’ve dared to look at any social media over the past few years, you’ll have seen a certain person shouting about Fake News. Whether or not you want to believe those tirades, fake news is real. Or at least it was back in August 1835 when the country, and even the world was swept up in some truly out of this world fake news. Hold on to your spaceships because as I promised last time, this is going to be a fun episode.

But first, I just want to say if you’re enjoying this podcast you can show your support by doing nothing other than the shopping you normally do. See, the folks over at Amazon have said to The Book Owl, “If you send customers our way, we’ll give you a tiny commission.” And the Book Owl said, “Hooty-licious!” 

How it works is that for any item you buy on Amazon, I’ll get a tiny percentage to help with the costs of keeping the show running. It’s costs you nothing extra and it’s super simple. All you have to do is, the next time you think you need something from Amazon, rather than going directly to Amazon, go instead to the book owl podcast dot com slash support and head to Amazon using the link on that page and then I get my commission. This only applies to my U.S. listeners, but that page has other super affordable ways to help keep the show running.

Okay, are you ready for some fake news? Then let’s get in the way back machine and head to New York, 1835.

It’s the 25th of August and as people open up their copies of the New York Sun they’re greeted with the first of six articles about a major scientific discovery. It could revolutionize their understanding of the world, it could mean we’re not alone in the universe, or it could just mean people are really, really gullible.

So these articles became known as the Great Moon Hoax and were supposed to have been written by Dr. Andrew Grant to report on a study published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Now, scientific journals aren’t anything you would normally pick up to read. Because laypeople couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of scientific jargon, Grant decided to write a series of articles explaining in easy to read language an amazing discovery. 

Grant, who I’ll just tell you now was a complete fabrication, was a colleague of Sir John Herschel and these articles reported on Herschel’s recent work.

Now John Herschel was a real person and he really was an astronomer among many other things. In Grant’s story, Herschel had gone to South Africa in 1834 to set up a huge telescope at a new observatory. The first article was primarily about this telescope and the set up. But the next few articles were all about what Herschel observed using this telescope.

And what did Herschel observe? Wonders upon wonders! I mean the very fact that Herschel didn’t have heart failure from the excitement should have been a clue this was a hoax. I mean the moon was amazing! First there was the landscape. A white pockmarked surface? Hell no! Sure the moon had its craters, but it also featured amethyst crystal outcroppings, flowing rivers, lush tropical vegetation, and beaches. 

What? Tell me more! Sorry, you need to buy the next paper to learn that these landscapes were nothing compared to Herschel’s other findings.

And people did. Basically, the New York Sun was running the click bait scam of the day. The paper’s sales prior to these articles had been slumping, but as people became eager to learn more about this unprecedented discovery, sales dare I say, skyrocketed.

But that’s not to say people didn’t get their money’s worth. Because the next article revealed…are you ready for this…

There was life on the moon. And you’re going to want to really pay attention here because this is good. So we start off a bit tame with some bison, then move up to unicorns (because why not), but there were also two-legged tail-less beavers (I’m not sure how these are beavers at this point, but…), and human like beings with bat wings. Yes, the moon, not Gotham City, was the original home of Batman. 

Unfortunately the moon missed out on a huge franchise opportunity by naming them man bats. Grant reported Herschel had, and I quote, “scientifically denominated them as Vespertillo homo, or man bat and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures.” 

Okay so as I said, Grant was a pseudonym, and it’s believed that  the actual author of the articles was a man named Richard Adams Locke, who honestly didn’t think people were gullible enough to believe this stuff. But as we know, people believe what they want to believe. And you couldn’t argue with the sales The Sun was seeing. So, Locke wisely kept mum about the hoax.

 The story wasn’t just being picked up in New York. It spread throughout the U.S. And across the pond to Italy, Germany, and the UK. Even a big ol’ smarty pants like Ralph Waldo Emerson was taken in. As were some scientists from Yale who, as scientists are wont to do, were eager to see the source material for Grant’s articles. 

So they traveled to New York to see first hand the study in the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Trouble was, that scientific journal had ceased publication in 1833. But as I said, Locke and the Sun wanted to keep things under wraps to keep sales coming in, so they ended up shuffling these Yale guys from the printing office to another office back to the printing office until the guys couldn’t stay any longer. They returned to Yale none the wiser.

Eventually however, people began to question the articles’ veracity. And this doubt started with the very first article that one where they were talking about Herschel’s telescope set up. This was supposedly a telescope with a diameter of 24 feet and weighed 7 tons, or 6700 kilograms. This massive thing according to the article had been transported from England to South Africa, and this was the early 1800s, they had enough trouble just transporting basic cargo let alone a giant delicate piece of scientific equipment. 

The skeptics finally got their way and a month after the first article came out, The Sun revealed that all the articles were indeed just a bit of satire. In fact, Locke, remember he’s the guy who had written the articles, had a specific target he was poking fun at. 

See, astronomy was capturing people’s imagination…maybe a bit too much. In 1824 a German professor of astronomy…a professor mind you, published a paper with the lengthy title of “Discovery of Many Distinct traces of lunar inhabitants, especially one of their colossal buildings.” In the paper he reports seeing roads and cities on the moon. I think the professor was dipping into the beer stein a few too many times during the day. 

But it was papers like these that had people convinced life really did exist on the moon and this led up to speculations by Reverend Thomas Dick who asserted without any room for doubt that that moon had 4.2 billion inhabitants. Now keep in mind that Earth at that time had only around 1 billion people living on it. Locke couldn’t resist poking fun at such an idea. And poke he did.

So what was the end result of this? Did people cry foul at the Sun, did they demand the paper be shut down, did they cancel their subscriptions? Nope. They had a good laugh at themselves and The Sun’s sales stayed fairly steady.

And the hoax wasn’t just a one and done thing. Over the next few months you could buy yourself Moon Hoax Merchandise including wall paper and snuff boxes. From the time of the big reveal and throughout the rest of 19th century anything deceptive was called Moon Hoax-y. 

But what about Herschel? Was his career ruined by this hoax? Did people claim he was less credible as a scientist? Nope again. In fact, at first he was amused by the articles and kind of enjoyed the silliness of them. But as the years went on he got a little annoyed because people kept asking him about the life he’d discovered on the moon. 

The only person who seems to have been really bothered by the hoax was Edgar Allan Poe. See Locke had been his editor, and a few months prior to the hoax, Poe had written a short story about life on the moon, with some similarities to the Great Moon Hoax articles. A story Locke had edited. The story had been published in another paper but was never popular. I think Poe was mainly upset that Locke’s version of the story got more attention than his own. But a few years later, the Sun published another series of hoax articles written by Poe about a hot air ballon ride over the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Poe, these articles just didn’t grab the world like the Great Moon Hoax.

So that’s it for the moon hoax. All I can say is that the fake news of 1835 was way more entertaining than the supposed fake news of today. 

For those of you who get The Book Owl Podcast newsletter I’m going to include a few wonderful images of those moon inhabitants as part of your bonus goodies. If you aren’t already part of the flock, be sure to sign up at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact. 

If you’d like to keep listening I’ve got a quick personal update as well as a Book Owl update coming up, but if you’re done, I just want to thank you for putting me in your ears. And if you like what you’ve heard, it’d be wonderful if you told just one other person about the show.

Okay, update time.

As the Book Owl Podcast. We’ve made a new nest over on YouTube! That’s right. There’s not really video, it’s just a show graphic, but if you click play you’ll get the full podcast episode right through your computer speakers. If you’re a fan of YouTube, I’ll have the link to the channel in the show notes, or you can just search for the book owl podcast the next time you’re popping into YouTube Land. 

As for my personal update, during the month of June I’m taking a break from my Cassie Black contemporary fantasy trilogy. Starting July , I’ll be editing and rewriting like mad, so I wanted to give my brain some time off from it. In the meantime though I’ve been drafting a stand alone novel that combines fantasy with a tiny bit of sci-fi. I’m more than half way through…which means I’ve climbed the highest hill and now should have smooth sailing from here on out. Or so I hope.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl, Thanks so much for listening and I will hoot at you next time!

The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.