Episodes, Having Fun

25. Going to Bookish Extremes

 

The Book Owl Podcast is (almost) a year old! And like many people will do during milestone birthdays, The Book Owl has decided to take things to the extreme. Sorry, it doesn’t involve bungie jumping. In this episode we explore some bookish extremes from the biggest book to the biggest library, the oldest tome to the oldest bookstore, and much more. Fair warning…there is singing involved.

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

So it’s Episode 25. And you’re now saying, so what. Well, right about a year ago (give or take a few day) I released the trailer for The Book Owl Podcast. Yep, it was my vocal debut…laaaa! I was as nervous as you can get without actually having heart failure. And before recording that trailer, and the first three or four episodes, if I’m being honest, I REALLY had to convince myself to get in front of the microphone. Now, recording is the part of putting these episodes together that I enjoy the most…cause I’m a big ol’ ham stuck in an introvert’s body.

And I can hear you saying, What is your point, you mad woman!? My point is The Book Owl Podcast is one year old. So Happy Birthday to the Book Owl!

As many people will do with milestone birthdays, the Book Owl is taking things to the extreme. No, not bungie jumping or parachuting…maybe I’ll save that for the 2nd birthday party. Instead, we’re looking at some extremes of book nerdy trivia. From the largest book to the oldest library, you’re going to have oodles of facts to annoy people with when we do ever get the chance to get together and are forced to make chit chat. You remember chitchat, right? Anyone? Anyone?

Starting Off With Thanks

But before we jump into the extremes of the book world, a triple round of thanks needs to be taken care of. First, I have to thank Ivonne for buying the Book Owl a cuppa as a way to show her support for the show. Ivonne is an Instagram buddy who I swear must be penpals with half the world. She creates some gorgeous letters, envelopes, and papery goodies I’d imagine must be a delight to get in the mail.

A second thanks goes yet again to Jonathon Pongratz for repeatedly sharing the show on his own Jaunts & Haunts blog. And a final bit of thanks goes to LaVelle who took the plunge and purchased some Book Owl swag. It looks like she got a few t-shirts with the Book Owl logo emblazoned across the front, so hopefully she’s enjoying those and sparking people’s curiosity about the show as she sports them around town.

Of course, if you like what you’re hearing, I’m just glad you’re listening, reviewing, and sharing, But if you are enjoying the show and want to lend the owl a little support, there’s loads of very inexpensive ways to do just that by popping into that Support link in the show notes..

Okay, let’s go to the extreme.

Defining a Book

So before we start this I’m going to put out a, I don’t know caveat, explanation, whatever. When I refer to “book” I mean an item made up of pages that is bound together and held in a cover of some sort. 

There are some things that are considered “books” that are actually just a series of tablets, or scrolls, or whatnot, but for this show, a book is what likely immediately comes to mind when someone says book. Not a bookie, that is something entirely different… and something you might want to avoid.

The Oldest Book

So let’s start off with the oldest book out there. And that would be The Golden Orphism Book. Orphism was a religion in Ancient Greece and in Thracia, which is now Bulgaria, and the religion was based around the story of Orpheus, which is actually one of my favorite Greek myths, so cool. But rather than contain that heartbreaking myth, the book is more of a handbook that describes the burial rites of the religion.

The book is 2,670 years old and was only found 70 years ago during a dig in Bulgaria. And it’s pretty small, only 5 cm tall, which is about 2 inches, and weighs right around 100g, or about 3.5 ounces. But for its small size, it’s pretty eye catching as its six pages are made of entirely of gold, hence its other not-so-clever name The Etruscan Gold Book…and I thought I was bad at coming up with titles. But wait, what’s with that Etruscan bit? Well, it was written in Etruscan. Again, not so clever with the naming. 

The Smallest Book

Okay, so at only a couple inches tall, that Etruscan book is kind of tiny, but it’s HUGE compared to the two smallest books in the world. And yeah, I had to cheat here and go with two because for some reason the book Teeny Ted from Turnip Town (great title, by the way) is touted as the smallest. It’s a mere 0.07 mm by 0.10 mm, that’s smaller than a poppy seed! It was created using nano imaging on 30 itty bitty sheets of silica. There were 100 copies made. But while you’re getting your copy, stop by the hardware store and grab a scanning electron microscope because that’s the only way you can read it.

Okay so that’s impressive, but a Russian man, Vladimir Aniskin, created, by hand mind you not with some fancy schmancy nano laser dohicky, a book that measures only .07 by .09 mm, making it 0.01mm smaller than the “smallest book”. So, I’m still confused as to why Teeny Ted is considered the smallest. 

Anyway, Vladimir’s book is made on sheets of super thin film and the crazy part is he bound them with thin wire so you can actually turn the pages, if you have a special tool to do so. And again, you’re going to be glad you picked up that electron microscope because you’ll also need it to read this book, so be sure to add that in to your book-buying budget for the month.

Most Expensive

Speaking of budgets, want to know what the most expensive book in the world is? Well, it’s a little tricky.

Okay, so let me explain…the most expensive book by purchase price was a copy of the Book of Mormon which sold for something like $34-ish million. The second priciest book at the auction house sold for nearly $31 million. And both of those were sold back in the 1990s. But due to adjusting for inflation and the perceived value of the work, that cheapo book is now ranked as the most expensive book in the world.

So what is this pricey book and who’s the luck owner? Well, it was bought by Bill Gates and is Leonardo da Vinci’a Codex Leicester, named for the Earl of Leicester who owned it before Mr. Microsoft. The book was created in 1506-1510 and is full of da Vinci’s notes on fossils, water flow, astronomy, it has sketches of various things from da Vinci’s imaginative mind, and is mostly written in his backwards, mirror handwriting. So it’s expensive sure, but at least buying a mirror to read it is cheaper than that electron microscope.

Largest Book

I like big books and I cannot lie? No? Well, if you can’t impress people with the most expensive book in the world, how about the biggest book in the world? This thing required all sorts of special equipment to put together and is even more impressive because it was entirely handmade using traditional bookbinding methods. It was written, illustrated, and put together in Hungary by Belga Varga. And I don’t know maybe this guy was really into large print books, but this thing is 4.2 m by 3.8 m, which is 14 by 12 feet; it weighs 1420 kg, or just over 3100 pounds; and six people and a special tool are required to turn the pages. 

But don’t worry, it won’t take long to read, because it only has 346 pages. And I bet a lot of that is taken up with pictures since the book is all about the animals, plants, and geology of Begla’s small village. 

Longest Book

But what will take you a long time to read is what’s been deemed the world’s longest book. This is the romantic tale Artaméne, ou le Grand Cyrus and was written in the 17th century by Madeline de Scudery who apparently had a lot of time on her hands. It’s so long it couldn’t be bound into a single book, and was instead put into 10 volumes of romance novel splendor…no word on if Fabio was on any off the covers. 

Okay, so how big is it? It’s a whopping 2.1 million words. To put that into perspective, the average novel these days is about 60 to 80,000 words, and the massive tome War & Peace is about 550,000 words. 

So, are you ready to tackle it? Well, you’re in luck because Artaméne is in the public domain. But fair warning before you dive in, it does only get a 2.9 star average on Goodreads.

Oldest Library

So, let’s close the books and take a look at extreme places to get some books. And just as we started with the world’s oldest book, let’s start with the world’s oldest library. Or let’s try to because again I am a little confused on this bit of trivia. 

So, the place that’s touted as the oldest library was started in 859 CE. It’s the al-Qarawiyyin Library (AL – CORE – OH – WEE- INN) and was founded by Fatima al-Fihri, who was the daughter of a wealthy Tunisian merchant and she also founded the Qarawiyyin Mosque and Qarawiyyin University, so kudos to her! And I did practice that pronunciation with How to Pronounce dot com, so I hope I’ve got it close.

So Fatima’s library fell into disrepair and had to be shut down for a while except to certain scholars. Well, in 2012 a renovation project began, and the library was reopened to the public in 2017.

Okay, so 859 CE, that’s pretty old and like I said, it’s ranked as the oldest, but there is another library at the foot of Mt Sinai that was started around 550 CE and this is the Saint Catherine’s Monastery library and it’s been in continuous use ever since it began. So I’m still not sure why this one isn’t considered the oldest and I couldn’t find a concrete answer to that. Maybe because it’s not exactly a public library, and it’s more of a religious library? I don’t know. So if you happen to know why, please let me know because it’s really bugging me.

Anyway, St. Catherine’s is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it does have the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts, the library in Vatican City has the largest…hey, another extreme and I didn’t even try!

Largest Library

I like big libraries and I cannot lie? Still no? Okay. Well, the battle for extremes continues because we’ve also got some contention for the largest library in the world. And by largest, I don’t mean by square footage, I mean by collection size. 

Because according to the Wikipedia gurus, both the British Library and the Library of Congress have 170 million items in their collections. Although the British Library I think might be trying to squeeze a few more items in by listing their collection size at 170 to 200 million (you know, like they’re not sure…or more like they don’t want to concede to us pesky Americans.). Fair enough. Still, number funding or not, these collections are impressive because the next largest in the list is the Shanghai Library with a mere 59 million items. It’s like they’re not even tying to win. Sheesh.

Oldest Bookstore

And finally we come to our last extreme…the world’s oldest bookstore. And after seeing this place, I really want to go there. It’s Betrand’s Bookstore located in Lisbon, Portugal. And it opened its doors in 1732. Unfortunately, the bookstore itself doesn’t date to 1732 it was toppled in a massive earthquake in 1755. But fear not, the bookstore was rebuilt soon after the earthquake an so can still claim it’s status as oldest. Hoorah for you Betrand’s and some day when I can travel again, I will be browsing your aisles. 

So that’s it for extremes, except now the Book Owl is wondering where the largest birthday cake might be. So while the baker’s get the ovens ready, how about a few updates?

Update Time

I am very very very happy to say that the worst is over in my writing world. For now anyway. 

I just wrapped up the final big edit on the third Cassie Black book, which means the hardest work for the trilogy is done. I’ll still be doing another proofread of book two and possibly give book three one or two more passes, but these really are just going to be proofreading and making teeny tiny tweaks to the language. Which is good because my red pen is nearly out of ink after the last blast of edits I did on both books earlier this month. 

And that was a bit of misery. I read book two and edited it one week, mostly minor edits, but still time consuming. Then the following week I read and edited book three, and that was a pretty big edit going over my own changes and suggestions from my beta readers. And seriously, I hate my own words at this point. But at the end of that second week, I felt a ginormous amount of relief. 

As I’ve said before, I have had more fun than ever writing the trilogy, but the pace to get these last two books done and ready for my review team and for publication has been insane. 

Speaking of review teams, if you want to join mine, there is a link in the show notes to apply. It’s a quick and easy application, but if you like to review books and if you want to see my stuff before anyone else, I’d encourage you to check it out.

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that is it for this birthday bonanza. I hope you enjoyed the show. If you did, please please please share it with one other person, leave a review, or pop into that link to show your support. Have a great couple weeks and I will hoot at you next time.

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 production by Headliner dot app.

Book Bargains, libraries

Who Doesn’t Love a Trashy Novel?

Hello Book Nerds of Bloglandia!

So we can all admit there’s some pretty trashy novels out there, right? But what about books that are literally in the trash? As a book lover, it boggles my mind that anyone would throw out a book. Actually, it sounds like the set up for a book nerd-themed horror movie!

After all, why throw out a book when you can pass it on and expand another person’s mind with rollicking tales, high-stakes adventure, and loads of literacy?

Well, in Turkey, there’s some garbage collectors who felt the same way.

See, Durson Ipek was out doing his garbage route one day when he found a bag of books chucked in the bin. He kept it and encouraged his fellow workers to do the same with books they found. Eventually, they had collected a couple hundred books that were in terrific shape.

And what did they do with those books?

These book heroes started a library!! The original library was in a disused brick making building and opened in 2017. And it received a HUGE amount of support from the community and the local government.

Today, this trashy library has over 6000 books in its collection, including a children’s section, fiction, comic books, books devoted to science, and even foreign language works.

I wonder what Oscar the Grouch would think of the library?

Anyway, you don’t have to go digging in the trash to discover something new to read (unless you want to, I won’t judge….much). All you need to do is browse the book bundles below.

Please, Please, PLEASE Do Take a Peek….

I know you’re used to seeing mostly fantasy and sci-fi bundles from me, but since The Undead Mr. Tenpenny has a strong paranormal mystery as its central plot line, I’ve also been invited to join in on some marvelous mystery collections this month.

As with all these bundles, this is an affordable and effective way for me and all the hard-working indie authors involved to get our books noticed.

Trouble is, while good for my budget, I’m only allowed to participate if I get readers to browse what’s on offer. So please do check out the bundles…I mean, it beats digging around in the trash, right?

And yes, your bundle browsing is a huge support!! You don’t have to buy a thing, but please do take a peek…you never know, you might just discover your next favorite author.

And of course, if you do buy anything, let me know what you selected. I’m always curious about what you’re reading!

Here’s what’s on offer this month in mystery, thrillers, fantasy, and more….

Explore what’s new in cozy mystery..

Get some thrills, solve some whodunnits…

How about a few fantastic deals…

Or perhaps some SFF Adventure for less than $5!


 Thanks for browsing… It really is a wonderful way to show your support!

***

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Oscar Image from https://www.kidsnews.com.au/arts/sesame-street-farewells-creator-of-big-bird-and-oscar/news-story/4805b295d1ff6cdf4a0bb9565f76c785

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, 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.

Having Fun

They Want Your Books!

Hello Book Nerds,

Ooh, I hope I didn’t scare you with that post title. Don’t worry, there aren’t monsters lurking behind your bookshelves waiting for you to fall asleep so they can steal your collection.

That would be scarier than 2020!

No, what the post refers to are places that would love to have your book donations. Since the next episode of The Book Owl Podcast (coming to you 14 January) has a book-donation theme going on, I thought a post about where you can donate your own books would be fitting.

Plus, who knows, maybe your New Year’s Resolutions includes tidying up a few bookshelves that may have gotten overpopulated. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has that problem. Am I? Um…anyway…

Where to Donate Books (Besides Goodwill)

  • Your Local Library – Most libraries appreciate getting book donations. Even if they don’t add your books to the stacks, they might included your books in a book sale that will help support your library…which is a great way to earn karma brownie points!

Note: During these ‘rona times, some libraries have limited their intake of used books, check with yours to see before you start lugging boxes of books around.

  • A Little Free Library – You’re book nerds. You probably know what these are. But just in case you don’t, LFLs are homemade book houses that people put up along their front yard. The idea is for passersby to take a book and then maybe drop off a different book later on.

I am very guilty of making heavy use of these glorious little things over the past year as I’ve tried to whittle down my own book stash. Of course, I usually end up bringing home just as many books as I drop off. Oops…

  • Better World Books – This secondhand bookstore has drop boxes in several locations, saving you the trouble of packing up and shipping your donations (as a few of the others above require). Your books are then sold and the money is used to help fund kids’ reading programs, put toward libraries, or to fund adult literacy groups. You can learn more at BetterWorldBooks.com (and you can do some shopping there while you’re at it!)
  • Books for Soldiers – With the motto, “Care packages for the mind,” this terrific idea pairs up your reading tastes with a service member. Soldiers put in requests for books or genres they like. You then look over the requests and send in whatever you have that fits the bill. You can learn more at BooksforSoldiers.com
  • Operation Paperback – Similar to Books for Soldiers, this allows you to search for service members who want books. You can learn more at OperationPaperback.org
  • Books for Africa – This group has sent over 2 million books to 21 countries in Africa to help alleviate the continent’s “book famine.” I just love the idea of hungry readers gobbling up my old books. Learn more at BooksforAfrica.org
  • Books Through Bars – No, not drinking bars…prison bars. This organization delivers something like 3000 books a month to prisons in several states. Reading builds better people, so this is a great way to help society as a whole. Learn more at BooksThroughBars.org

There’s gobs more places to donate books, but I hope this gives you an idea of just a few of the many organizations who would love to take your books off your hands…you know, if you’re ready and willing to give them up. That’s a big “if” for us book nerds!

If you have other places to suggest, be sure to drop them in the comment box below.

Hoot at ya later!

***

Looking for new books that won’t take up shelf space?

It’s a great time to stock up on new stories. From 99c deals to box set binging, you’re sure to find something (or several somethings) you can’t resist!