If It Ain't Broke
The Pew Research Center recently released a survey showing that Americans still have a preference for reading old-fashioned paper-based, spine-having, space-occupying books. Those readers will be happy to see Keith Houston's "The Book," a lovingly designed and illustrated deep history of the book — or, as Houston's subtitle has it, "the most powerful object of our time."
And by deep, I mean deep: We start in ancient Egypt with the painstaking transformation of the papyrus plant into writing material; one chapter is titled "Stroke of Genius: The Arrival of Writing." By the last chapter of "The Book," we're still several hundred years in the past, when the Italian scholar Aldus Manutius revolutionized the manufacture of books, making them more affordable.
In the beginning, papyrus scrolls gave way to bound pages of parchment. According to Houston, historians can't date the exact origins of the book as we know it. But the Roman poet Martial, who lived in the first century, was an early promoter of the format. In a foreword to a collection of his epigrams, he wrote something that sounds remarkably like modern marketing copy for the latest technology: "You who long for my little books to be with you everywhere and want to have companions for a long journey," he wrote, "buy these ones which parchment confines within small pages: Give your scroll-cases to the great authors — one hand can hold me."
"I have been shown so much kindness in my life, so for me to write books about good, kind people seems completely natural. . . . When people say, 'Oh, it's too nice, it's naïve,' I just think, 'Who killed your mother?' " — Ann Patchett, in an interview with The Guardian
Be Like Bill
Bill Murray has moved from slouched comedian to esteemed actor to spiritual guru. Gavin Edwards's "The Tao of Bill Murray," out this week, recounts the stories that have led to this most recent status. They start with his near-mythical (but most likely real) pranks on strangers, as when he covers someone's eyes, says "Guess who?" and then tells them, "No one will ever believe you" after revealing himself. In 1977, before he was widely famous, Murray impulsively decided to attend Elvis Presley's funeral. In 2011, recognized around the world, he crashed a stranger's karaoke party in New York City, staying for four hours and joining the host in a duet of Elvis's "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame." The book breaks Murray's mojo down into 10 principles. ("Invite yourself to the party." "Your spirit will follow your body.") But there seems to be just one big rule underlying the many anecdotes in this book: Have bizarre fun whenever and however you want.