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“Loving to read as a strategist”. Episode 4. Once upon a time, writing and reading tied the knot.

Once upon a time, writing and reading tied the knot, and it wasn´t involuntary. It took several millennia for humankind to understand the inherent nature of the love between writing and reading. And it took centuries to shape it. It wasn´t like a movement of The Fairy Godmother toward Cinderella’s wishes. It wasn´t a love tale under an accelerated process of 12 years after the Smartphone introduction in 2008. Things in the oldest times took the time of nature. Never in a hurry. Certainly not using extreme circumstances (as a pandemic) to impose the technologies. Everything that humans did in the past was slow enough to take the required cautions. Sometimes it was simply because of dogma. Others, because of convenience. And other times because the expansion had a unpretending pace of occurring gradually.

Les Crayons, a Watercolor exercise 7 x 5 inches. By Eleonora Escalante. The purpose of this exercise was to test colors. Testing the Sennelier Grain Fine 300GSM paper and my first Sennelier Professional Watercolors tubes. What beautiful french pigments!.

We can´t conceive our reading/writing love story as an arranged matrimony either. The main love chronicle of the universe between reading and writing took the center stage in our lives in such a unhurried mood, never in a rush. The chronology of the history of reading is a beautiful one, as amazing, that I can write another saga just to discuss the historic roots of reading. Nevertheless, do not lose sight, please. Only the first 5 chapters of our journey are dedicated to the past.

As Helen Fisher (1) describes it “Love is woven firmly in the fabric of the human brain”: And writing-reading is the preeminent human example of that phrase. “Throughout human history, the world´s knowledge and fruits of the creative imagination have been produced, circulated and received through the medium of the material text”.(2)

The history of the book.
According to Leslie Howsam, the history of the book is a “way of thinking about how people have given material form to knowledge and stories”(2). If we analyze this last sentence, we can sense immediately that humans wanted to transform the intangible into the physical, because something was missing. Why on earth humans were going to spend thousands of years trying to find the optimum mix of surface, inks, and the most efficient manufacturing process for book production? Why do you think that humans wished to evolve from orality to literacy? Why did they try to exercise inscription on the walls, stone carvings, registers on clay tablets, on papyrus rolls, on animal skins (parchment), then on cloth fiber or vegetable paper? Before printing, texts were arranged in scrolls, codex volumes, and then manuscripts.

Books existed, even before the conception of printing.
Regardless that the history of the books probably began with a clay tablet in Mesopotamia, and then disembarked on paper with a printed quasi-stamping process with the heavy Gutenberg´s gadget; our human need was to keep our stories, reports, and knowledge tangibly. Books were defined by us, designed by us, and procured by us under a long process of testing, and learning from mistakes.  I doubt that nowadays, any of us will consider killing a cow to remove their skin to fabricate a sheet of parchment with 8 octavos size pieces to write. I truly hesitate that any of us would consider slaughtering a sheep to tan and lime its skin to make it durable and foldable, to scrap and de-fur it just to render it smooth on the two sides, or to stretch the parchment skin to convert it into a very thin surface. I truly distrust that we will consider the hand-manufacturing of parchment to inscribe the books of the Bible.  But our ancestors did it, for at least 1000 years before Gutenberg´s time. And parchment was the preferred surface to write for several centuries in Europe. If humans decided to go through hundreds of years of laborious parchment manufacturing to register a set of communication messages on curated animal skin, just to know that piece of our history, is reason enough to take some time, and think about it? Just that parchment’s utilization millennia duration indicate to us how valuable, critical, and essential was for our ancestors to write and read. It was a need, a desire to leave a mark for other humans to read it. It was a religious crusade coming out of the monks.  And mainly the driver was to produce the available books of the Bible. It wasn´t an act of selfishness for making money using the industry of writing (that then evolved to printing) but it was an action triggered by several purposes: a requirement in the monasteries to keep history alive, a need for the Bible to expand beyond the monasteries territories, and by a wish from a unique selective group of people who were able to buy or get in exchange a Bible or other texts for the elite readers of those times that estimated books as a luxury.  

Learning to read is to learn to writeIllustrative and non-commercial image. Photo Source: Microsoft Office Library

Inherent aspects of books.
According to Howsam, for a book to be a book, this must comply with the following 4 aspects: (a) A book is a text; (b) A book is a material object; (c) A book is a cultural transaction, and (d) A book is an experience. No matter how we manufactured the surface for writing, a book was considered such because we could touch it as a material object and there was a text engraved (by hand-writing or printing press machines) on that surface. There were specific inks used for this purpose. And there were manuscripts folded or grouped under a specific order of continuation.

In addition, a cultural transaction implied an occasion to observe a whole chain of intermediaries between the author and the reader. For example: In the monastic age, which started a couple of centuries after the death of Christ, and expanded through all the Medieval section of our history, these intermediaries were ranging from the stationers of the kingdoms, to the commercial scriptoriums for those of the high-elite social class that was able and allowed to study under tutors (before the advent of the universities), to the monasteries who worked in the manufacturing of the materials. The cultural transaction of manuscripts and CODEX in the monasteries´ scriptorium team was of complex proportions. This was mainly the place in which all the textual production into manuscripts was done. This also involved the copyist scribes, the compilators, the commentators, the rubricators, the illuminators of the initials, borders, and miniature drawings inserted in the texts, and anyone else participating in the book value chain production, such as translators, correctors, or curators who were not the authors, but who reshaped the texts. In addition, other people inside the monasteries were participating in the assembly-line process to bind them in several separated sections that allowed parchment folios to be re-sequenced, inserted, extracted, edited, or omitted”(4). Inside the monasteries, the books were fabricated under a “collective authority”. During the Renaissance, after the 15th century, and with the advent of reproducibility in printed texts, the shift from transcribed manuscripts (manuscript means written by hand) in small numbers to printed reproduction in enormous quantities triggered a modification in the way in which books were understood. After Gutenberg, writing became an individualized activity, a potential source for recognition and social advancement (5).

Paper discovery and transformation.
Paper made from hemp or linen (cloth fiber), emerged in China in such a distinguished and slow manner. Several fibers were tested over more than a millennium. Fibers from plants, hemp, tree bark, bamboo, and others were used and blended in a constant Design Based Research mood then. The experimentation of the Chinese took their products to an indisputable best quality, and by 1000 CE with different sheets of paper sources (rice, wheat straw, sandalwood bark, hibiscus stalks, and even seaweed). The Chinese paper came all sizes, and many color shades (6).

Moreover, the Chinese were the first to offer special innovative papers, which were reserved for calligraphy, watercolors, and paintings. The Chinese were also secretive about their papermaking skills, as much as they did with silk production. But some China papermakers were taken as slave prisoners by the Arabs, stealing their know-how and paper-making technologies.  The Arabs took the paper making from the Chinese around the eighth century CE and inevitably the Persian territories positioned themselves as the paper makers for their own purposes. Paper utilization spread throughout all the Muslim commercial territories, including Spain, between 800-1,000 CE. “Paper’s primary and most progressive role, at that time; however, was secular for the Persians. It was the medium for maps, astronomical charts, and battle plans, as well as for books in a wide range of literary fields, from popular fiction to philosophy. It was used for scientific, mathematical, and musical notation as well as for architectural plans, facilitating experimentation in each discipline”(7). Then the Italians adopted the paper-making and perfected it over the next three hundred years. The Italians introduced pulping processes, watermarks, smoother surfaces, and several technological innovations to their paper mills in locations such as Fabriano, Bologna, Padua, and Amalfi. During the XIV century, new German and French Mills ascended to their societies. By the time of Gutenberg, the paper mills extended and were established in Austria, England, Austria, Holland, and other North-European countries (8).

In summary, the paper-making took a long time to endure to the format in which we see it right now in our notebooks and books. More than 4,000 years!

Gutenberg´s revolution.
When Guttenberg invented the printing press, he had all the pieces of the puzzle solved. The paper was then cheap, thin, and ink friendly. He simply created how to use his prototype for printing with a wood machine, metal types, and the black viscous inks that initiated the voyage of the printing books as we know them right now.

We will stop here. I will have to aggregate a new episode, solely dedicated to the printing press era and the history of the writing/reading between the XV to the XIX century. Next week we will dedicate this additional episode to analyzing the coming of the print before proceeding into the subject “Reading in the XX Century”. Please see the updated timeline please.

Our next episode: “ Gutenberg´s legacy”.

Strategic Music Section.

Music Reading chill-outs. The virtual aspects of reading. A considerable number of us have evaluated and we are being used to download e-books, e-papers, e-journals, or any type of document from the Internet. Since the creation of the PDF format, we can transfer any screen file into a printing sheet of paper. We simply click the correspondent “save as PDF”, and voila, we can get a virtual copy of the text on our computers, and then print it at our convenience. In consequence, whatever we download is subject to print. This current action of printing by ourselves has substituted the printing companies which were the intermediaries between the author and the reader. Those who support the convenience of using digital books are separating the tangibility characteristic of the book from the traditional physical structure of pages. Thousands of new younger readers have become accustomed to reading from digital devices, and for them, it doesn´t seem an arduous task. Moreover, there is an ample range of electronic readers in the marketplace (from Amazon Kindle, Barnes Noble Nook, Kobo, iPad, and the rest of generic tablets).  

But, in our last episode, we remarked on the importance of continuing to keep the traditional books (in paper version, no matter if hardcover or paperback).

Despite the advantages of using an e-reader, we still recommend maintaining the traditional book format of reading on paper, particularly for digital addicts that can´t control themselves when in front of a digital device. Even the best Kindle screen is subject to failure, or it does not function in absence of electricity. Whenever you feel tempted to switch from traditional books to e-readers, take into consideration that it took 4 thousand years to arrive on paper. In K-12 and universities, we advise retaining paper books exclusively for learning. If the entire world is moving towards digital in the workplace, at least preserving learning and reading as a non-digital activity, will prove to be beneficial for our brains. After you are out of the university, it is up to us to try to keep a balance: if your daily work pursuits are digital, read books in paper format. It will soothe your mind. Moreover, if you are already a digital addict, try to avoid reading from electronic devices. Digital addiction is a “harmful dependence on digital media and devices such as smartphones, video games, and computers. Some psychologists believe that addiction to electronic devices and media should be classified similarly to substance abuse disorders (9)”.

Reading paper books can save us from losing our minds.

Today´s music is all about our guitar selection for reading. It is an adorable mix of segments of music played by different guitarists, and particular guitars. The video is named: Reading & Studying Music on Classical Guitar. Stay home with Siccas Guitars.


See you next Tuesday 27th of September, with the fifth chapter of the saga “Loving to read as a strategist: Gutenberg´s legacy”. Thank you for reading to me.


“Loving to Read as a Strategist”. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Giphy source from Nazaret Escobedo.

Sources of reference are utilized today.

  1. https://helenfisher.com/books/why-we-love-the-nature-and-chemistry-of-romantic-love/
  2. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/cambridge-companion-to-the-history-of-the-book/study-of-book-history/ Chapter 1
  3. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/cambridge-companion-to-the-history-of-the-book/study-of-book-history/ Chapter 5
  4. https://www.routledge.com/Introduction-to-Book-History/Finkelstein-McCleery/p/book/9780415688062
  5. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/cambridge-companion-to-the-history-of-the-book/study-of-book-history/ Chapter 5
  6. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1120/paper-in-ancient-china/
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/29/books/shelf-life-the-story-of-islam-s-gift-of-paper-to-the-west.html
  8. https://www.routledge.com/Introduction-to-Book-History/Finkelstein-McCleery/p/book/9780415688062 Chapter 2
  9. https://unitedbrainassociation.org/brain-resources/digital-addiction/

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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