In celebration of Book Lovers Day (August 9th), we’ve compiled a list of 36 interesting facts about books.
You can’t have a list of interesting facts about books without including some of these gems.
1. The Earliest Work of Literature
The earliest known work of literature is an epic poem titled the Epic of Gilgamesh, from Ancient Mesopotamia. Because paper books did not exist at the time, the whole tale is told on 12 tablets. Today, the Epic of Gilgamesh is available on a digital tablet or e-reader. [Wikipedia]
2. The First Modern Novel
The world’s first novel as we know it was The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting in 11th century Japan. In the original edition, almost none of the characters had names and were referred to by titles and honorifics because of Heian-era Japanese court etiquette. [Wikipedia]
3. The First Published Book
The first book ever published was the Gutenberg Bible in 1453. It was printed by the inventor of the printing press himself, Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg. The Gutenberg Bible and the Gutenberg press are considered revolutionary, and to have ushered in a new era in human history. [Wikipedia]
4. The First Book Composed On a Typewriter
Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1882) is considered by historians to be the first fully typewritten manuscript sent to a publisher. In Mark Twain’s 1904 autobiography, he misattributed this to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which typically ends on up on fact lists (like this one) instead. [University of Virginia]
5. There Are Tons of Books Out There
An estimated 755,755 new books are published every year. As of mid-2017, there are an estimated 134,399,411 total published books in the world. That’s a lot of books. [Mental Floss]
6. The Largest Book Ever
The largest “book” in the world is located in Manday, Myanmar in Burma at the Kuthodaw Pagoda. The Kuthodaw Pagoda features a collection of 730 marble tablets surrounding the base of its structures, double-sided with text. The collection of tablets bears the complete scripture of Theravāda Buddhism.
This large “stone book” was built by King Mindon Min in 1857, and originally featured golden ink and precious stones. [Atlas Obscura]
7. The Largest Book Made of Paper
The world’s largest book made of paper is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The giant tome, titled This the Prophet Muhamed, was created by the Mshahed International Group and unveiled in February 2012. It is five meters wide, 8.06 meters long, contains 429 pages and weighs over 3,000 pounds. [Guinness World Records]
8. The Largest Published Book
The largest book ever published in a conventional manner is a Brazilian copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (who also happens to be a pioneer of the aviation world). It measures 3.08 meters wide (opened) and 2.01 meters high. It was featured in the September 2007 Biannual Book Fair of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. [Guinness World Records]
9. The Longest Novel Ever
The world’s longest novel ever written is Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, or A la recherche du temps perdu in its native tongue (French). The novel is estimated to have 9,609,000 characters. [Guinness World Records]
10. The Longest Audiobook Ever
The longest audiobook in the world is almost five days long. It was published in 2008 in Japan, and consists of lectures from Takaaki Yoshimoto, a philosopher, poet and literary critic. The total runtime is 115 hours, 43 minutes. [Guinness World Records]
11. The Thickest Book Ever Published
The thickest book ever published, The Complete Miss Marple, is 12.67 inches wide and 4,032 pages long. The Complete Miss Marple is a collection of 20 short stories and 12 mystery novels, by author Agatha Christie, about an old spinster named Miss Marple who solves crimes (sort of like Murder She Wrote, whose lead star had portrayed Miss Marple in the feature film The Mirror Crack’d four years before the series aired). [Guinness World Records]
12. The Most Expensive Book Ever
The most expensive book in the world is a first edition of the Bay Psalm Book, first printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640. A notable fact is that this book was one of the first books to be printed with a press in the New World, entering production merely a couple decades after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. It was sold for $14,165,000 at a 2013 auction in New York. [Wikipedia]
13. The Largest Structure Made of Books
In June 2017, Argentine art icon Marta Minujin created a to-scale Parthenon made of banned books, plastic wrap, and metal grills. However, instead of building it at the Acropolis in Athens, Minujin built it at a historic Nazi book burning site in central Germany. The “Banned Book Parthenon” consisted of 100,000 copies of 170 titles. [The Local DE]
14. The Best Selling Book in the World
The best selling and most read book in the world is still The Bible (Gideons International might have helped make this happen).
Other Interesting Book Facts
Now that we’ve covered record-setters, here are some facts you might not have heard before.
15. There is an Organization Dedicated to Hotel Bibles
Those bibles you find in hotel rooms are distributed by an organization called Gideons International, founded in 1899. This organization exists for the sole purpose of distributing bibles. As of 2015, Gideons International has distributed over 2 billion bibles and is estimated to distribute more than 2 bibles a second (that’s more than 7,200 an hour). [Wikipedia]
This fact is often followed up with the question of whether you’re supposed to (or allowed to) take these bibles from the hotel room. Although the bibles are intended for people to have access to when they visit a hotel room, Gideons International does not mind when people take them. [Quora]
16. The Gideons Bible Used to Get Mentioned in Rock n’ Roll
The Gideons Bible was a somewhat popular topic for classic rock musicians. It’s been mentioned in songs by The Beatles (Rocky Raccoon), Jethro Tull (Locomotive Breath), Elton John (Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream) and even Bing Crosby (Bye Bye Baby).
17. The Library of Alexandria, Greatest Library of the Ancient World
One of the largest libraries of the ancient world was considered to be the Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt. Any books that came into the city’s port became library property, and a copy was created for the owner. It is estimated to have housed up to 400,000 scrolls of text, before it was destroyed. The destruction of the Library of Alexandria is famed and romanticized as one of the greatest historical cultural losses to mankind. [Wikipedia]
18. The Library of Congress, Greatest Library of the Modern World
The current largest library in the world is the United States Library of Congress, which houses more than 38 million books. Originally, the library was conceived by James Madison and established by legislation from President John Adams for use as a resource for congress.
After the original Library of Congress established by President Adams was destroyed by invading British troops in the War of 1812, it was replaced by Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, which was much more eclectic in nature (even containing cookbooks). Since then, the Library of Congress has become the de facto national library of the United States. [Wikipedia]
19. Books Must Be Sent to the Library of Congress By Law
Pretty much all books that are published in the United States must be sent to the Library of Congress, due to the US Copyright Act’s mandatory deposit provisions. Not just any copies either, the law stipulates that two copies the “best edition” must be sent in, which typically means the nicest hardcover edition. Noncompliance with this law can earn fines of $250 – $2500 plus the cost of obtaining two copies of the book in question. [IP Tech Blog]
20. Liking the Smell of Books is a Recognized Thing, There’s Even a Word for It
If one of the first things you do when you get a new book is smell the pages, you’re not alone. The act of smelling books is called “bibliosmia”, it’s actually pretty common.
21. The Chemical Reaction Behind the Smell of Old Books
“Old book smell” is produced by the breakdown of two chemical components in paper, cellulose and lignin. The byproducts of this process are toluene and ethylbenzene (which produce a sweet odor), vanillin (which produces a vanilla odor), benzaldehyde and furfural (which produce an almond odor), and 2-ethylhexanol which produces a flowery odor. [Science ABC]
22. “Old Book Smell” Can Be Used for Historical Dating
Much like with carbon-dating, scientists can analyze the chemicals responsible for “old book smell” to determine the age of a book. The process is called “material degradomics”. [Wired]
23. Buying Books and Not Reading Them is Also a Thing
The Japanese word Tsundoku means “to let reading materials pile up in one’s home and never read them”. It sounds pretty noble when you frame it as an ancient art.
24. In January 2017, Amazon Sold Out of Physical Copies of 1984
In January 2017, two of the biggest trending topics in the media were “fake news” and “alternative facts”. This inspired consumers to buy every physical copy of 1984 from Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, by the end of the month. Amazon was unable to get more newly printed copies in stock until February 3rd. [Gizmodo]
25. Medieval Books Came With Curses
Before the printing press was invented, books had to be written and copied by hand, which imaginably took forever (years). Because most literate people in Europe were clergy, this job usually fell to monks who ended up with the vocation of being a scribe. These monk-scribes would protect their life’s work with a wide variety of curses inscribed at the beginning and end of the handwritten tomes.
The curses could involve being mutilated by demonic swords, the gouging of eyes, bookworms eating away at the entrails of thieves, and even having the book turn into a serpent in the hands of those who borrow and do not return them. Most curses, however, simply involved excommunication (being expelled from the Catholic Church, with an implied sentence to hell). [Atlas Obscura]
26. In Addition to Curses, Medieval Books Had Chains
Most reference libraries in the Middle Ages (and some up to the 18th century) would have chains attaching books to their shelves to prevent theft. The chain would typically be placed on the corner of cover of the book, and the book would be placed in the shelf with the pages facing outwards. [Wikipedia]
27. “Packhorse Librarians” Were the Bookmobiles of the Great Depression
During the Great Depression, one of FDR’s New Deal programs was the Pack Horse Library Initiative. Librarians would ride on horseback into the Appalachian mountains to provide books and literacy to the mountain-folk of Kentucky. In order to gain the trust of suspicious mountain families who did not take kindly to outsiders, book carriers would sometimes read bible passages to prove that they were not a threat. [Smithsonian Magazine]
28. There is a Bookstore in Oregon That Takes Up a City Block
Powell’s City of Books (founded by Walter Powell) takes up a whole city block in Portland, Oregon. The megastore has about 1.6 acres (68,000 square feet) of retail floor space. [Wikipedia]
29. Harry Potter is the Most Banned Book of the 21st Century (US)
According to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter series was the most banned and challenged book for the years 2000-2009. Most instances take issue with the series’ depictions of witchcraft and wizardry. [American Library Association]
30. Charles Dickens Had a Novelty Bookcase Filled With Fake Books
Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities, had a bookcase in his house filled with fake books with comical names. This bookcase functioned as a secret door, much like in a mystery novel or Scooby Doo episode. [FlavorWire]
Some of the titles included:
- King Henry the Eighth’s Evidences of Christianity (5 volumes)
- Jonah’s Account of the Whale
- The Lives of a Cat (9 volumes)
- History of the Middling Ages (6 volumes)
- The Art of Cutting Teeth
31. Almost Three Quarters of Americans Read Books
Most people in the United States read books. According to a 2016 survey, 73% of Americans have read a book in any format within the last year. 65% of those people have read a physical, print book. [Pew Statistics]
32. Alternative Book Formats Are Getting More Popular
Of all the Americans surveyed who read books, 28% had read an e-book (a book on a screen), 13% from a cell phone. 14% of people surveyed had listened to an audio book. [Pew Statistics]
The Benefits of Reading
It’s common knowledge that reading is good for you, but did you know how good? The following factoids might convince you to pick up a book for your health.
33. People Who Read Fiction Are Nicer
According to a 2017 study by Kingston University, there is a relationship between reading fiction and real-world social abilities. People who read fiction are more empathetic, open minded to others’ viewpoints, more likely to demonstrate positive social behavior. [Research Gate]
34. Reading Books Can Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia
One way to help prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia is to pick up a book. People who engage in reading throughout their lives, and other mentally stimulating activities, typically have less beta-amyloid proteins and plaque in their brains (which are associated with Alzheimer’s). [Live Science]
35. Reading Can Relieve Stress
According to a study by the University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. Reading even outscored listening to music (61%) and having a cup of tea or coffee (54%) as a tool for stress relief. [The Telegraph]
36. People Who Read Live Longer
According to a study published in Social Science & Medicine, reading books for at least 30 minutes a day can increase one’s lifespan. Researchers found that those who read books for half an hour or more a day had a 23 month survival advantage (live almost two years longer on average). [Science Direct]
Did we forget something?
If your favorite fact about books didn’t make the list, let us know what it is in the comments below!