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Guest blogger: Suzi Love

4 September 2016

SuziLoveA quick history of reading writing

Having been an obsessive reader long before I became a writer, I’ve always had a fascination with books and how they were physically written. I now write historical romances, mainly Regency Era, so my love of books has expanded into the history of reading and the implements used to write them. And throughout history, people were incredibly inventive in finding ways to record words for others to read.

In the 23rd century BC, the Chinese made plant, animal and mineral inks and used them for painting on silk and paper so people could read stories. Greeks and Romans made ink from soot, glue and water (carbon inks). In Ancient Egypt, scribes invented reed pens to replace styluses and writing in clay but these pens were too rigid and points didn’t last long enough so quills were made from molted flight feathers of large birds. Quills were popular in the Western world from the 6th to the 19th century until a steel nib was patented in 1803 and came into common use in the 1830s.

Chalk was used in prehistoric cave drawings and later chalk sticks were made by grinding calcium carbonate, mixing it with water, clay and pigment. Blackboard chalk became popular in the 19th century when class numbers increased and books were still too expensive for common people. Pencil lead was also invented independently in France and Australia.

Babbage’s Analytical Engine

Babbage’s Analytical Engine

In 1888, ballpoint pens came into use and in 1938, László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper editor, with the help of his brother George, a chemist, began designing new pens, including one with a tiny ball in its tip.

So for those who still write by hand, be grateful for all these advances. For those of us who now use a computer to read or write, we can be thankful that Lady Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, was the inventor behind Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, our first computer.

In my Scandalous Siblings series, the Jamison siblings are all scientifically gifted and are friends with Ada Lovelace.

Reading Room at the British Museum

Reading Room at the British Museum

Before books were mass produced, people read in various places, including in the windows of print shops and in mass reading rooms, such as the Reading Room at the British Museum. Members of the upper classes could afford to buy books or to borrow them from a circulating library.

Aren’t we lucky these days to have so many choices for reading books? We have libraries, bookstores, and numerous online retailers to feed our reading addictions and we can read books in print or on computers, eReaders, tablets and phones.

I’m grateful for all our advances in electronics so I can type my book on a computer or I can dictate them and my computer writes for me. How cool is that? So when you pick up your next book, think of all the inventors and inventions that made our book addiction possible.

Suzi Love

You can find Suzi here: Website | Facebook | Twitter

  1. 4 September 2016 9:08 pm

    Glad you learned some things about our publishing business, V.K. Black. And yes, I’m trying to use dictation more to save my hands and arms.

  2. 4 September 2016 2:48 pm

    Wonderful post.I didn’t know the reason blackboard chalk became so popular.

  3. 4 September 2016 12:41 pm

    That was really fascinating, Suzi! I had no idea about a lot of those things. So you’re dictating your stories now for the computer to write them? That’s amazing. I’m still a pen and paper gal. Such a philistine! 🙂

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