Quirky and humorous, part poetry, part reflection, this is the story of the book told by none other than Book himself! This extraordinary character begins by reminding us of his origins in oral story and clay tablets, then ponders on papyrus, parchment and paper, and on being a scroll who finally gets a spine. We see him lovingly illuminated by monks in medieval monasteries, then witness the massive changes brought about by the invention of the printing press, and the coming of paperbacks and e-books in the 20th century. But Book’s not a straightforwardly chronological chap; he can’t help musing – and his musings, whether they’re on the evolution of the alphabet, libraries, book-burning or blurbs, are delightful and thought-provoking. Years of reflection and observation have gone into this charming title – John Agard signed the contract with Walker 16 years ago!
Although ostensibly a reference source, Agard's history of books is better regarded as a long, freeform meditation, or perhaps even a prose poem. Arranged chronologically and narrated by a personified Book, the history starts with human storytelling "Before Book, there was Breath" before surveying the development of alphabets and printing (hieroglyphics, papyrus, and the rise of publishing houses are among the topics discussed), eventually working its way up to e-books. Agard (The Young Inferno) is at his best when writing against the grain, and the work's strongest moments come when he considers the politics of books: what happens when people are too poor to buy them, or when authorities consider them disturbing enough to burn. "Believe me," Book says, "I have been destroyed by hands that considered themselves holy. They threw me to the flames as they would later throw women who wisdom was beyond theirs and whom they called witches." Packer's witty, elegant illustrations make one wish for larger pages; in one, a Roman centurion reads in the bath, his feather-studded helmet still on his head, his toe stuck up the faucet. Ages 10 up.