I love libraries. In our family, we have four favorite places for ‘down-time’ and restoration: beaches, parks, gyms, and libraries. I see lifting weights and lifting up books as equally stimulating and healthy. One exercises the body; the other one the mind.
My parents love books. My father reads so extensively that he exhausts virtually every library he joins, and has to move on to another neighbouring library just to find new options. Scholars have discovered that the best way to motivate one’s children to learn is by example. If your children never see you reading, it has a profound impact on their likelihood to pick up a book themselves. There is no better way for your children to expand their minds than to turn off their video games, iPods, or TV, and actually crack open a thought-provoking book or e-book.
The latest library book that has fascinated me is Dr Andrew Pettegree’s “The Book in the Renaissance”. Dr Pettegree is the Head of the School of History at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, and founding director of the St. Andrew’s Reformation Studies Institute. I have learned so much from reading this amazing book. I was shocked to discover that before the sixteenth century in Europe, educators did not teach history in school. One of my growing passions is history, which is why I included so much Canadian history in my last book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada.’ Dr Pettegree comments that “the teaching of history was in many respects the most original curricular innovation of the Renaissance period. History was not taught in the classrooms in classical times…”
I was also surprised to discover that in England, there was no formal provision for teaching writing in the grammar schools. Few classrooms even had desks. If one wanted to learn how to write, it had to be done during school vacations, perhaps employing a private writing master.
The existence of books can be traced back to before the 7th century BC. Some of the earliest books in Mesopotamia were made of clay tablets. Others were made of silk, bone, bronze, pottery, shell, dried palm leaves, or wood. The Greek word for ‘book’ biblos originally meant “fibre inside of a tree”. The Chinese character for book is an image of a bamboo tablet.
The ancient Egyptians developed a very sophisticated form of book-making, using papyrus made of stretched-out reeds, pasted together in scrolls, sometimes up to forty feet. Beginning in the 3rd century BC, parchment made out of animal skins gradually replaced papyrus as the dominant form of book-making. Parchment was both very durable and very expensive. Until the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the fifteenth century, virtually all books were handwritten manuscripts, often painstakingly transcribed in monasteries.
We are all very aware of how the internet and social media has revolutionized our 21st century. Gutenberg’s printing press was just as revolutionary. Before Gutenberg, books were only for the wealthy elite. After Gutenberg, books democratized Europe by making new ideas available for ordinary people. His revolution did not just birth printed books, but gave rise to newspapers, further educating ordinary people and infusing their minds with dreams of freedom and equality.
The first book that Gutenberg printed was the Bible. The ready accessibility of the Bible in one’s own language was a radical innovation that many bureaucrats resisted with a passion. Bibles were burnt openly in every part of Europe. Tyrants knew that if ordinary people were given a chance to read the Bible for themselves, liberty would break out everywhere. As the Great Physician put it, you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
I was fortunate to be number seven of the eight people to receive an IPhone 4 at a local phone store. My only problem was that I didn’t know how to make it work. So I went back to the phone store, asking about the user guide. None of the three employees had ever seen or read the user guide. All had IPhone 4s. “How did you learn to use it?” I asked. One of the young employees said to me “I just pressed buttons until something happened.” Eventually I found the user guide, and actually read it. What an amazing difference it made. As my math teacher said in Grade 10, “When all else fails, read the instructions”. We live in an amazing age when most of us are able to read, yet we still often fail to make the most of this gift.
Gutenberg gave us the gift of printed Bibles available for all to read. Isn’t it about time that we take a look once again at God’s user manual?
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.