The wonderful world of books September is National Literary Month | Sunday Observer

The wonderful world of books September is National Literary Month

10 September, 2023
Ink and Pigments on Papyrus
Ink and Pigments on Papyrus

S.N. Sasrutha Nayanathul Dias talks about the wonderful world of books to mark this event.


H appy is the man who acquires the habit of reading when he is young. He has secured a life-long source of pleasure, instruction and inspiration. So long as he has his beloved books, he need never feel lonely. He always has a pleasant occupation for moments of leisure so that he need never feel bored. He is the possessor of wealth more precious than gold. Ruskin calls books, ‘Kings’ Treasure’.

Books are treasuries filled with something more precious than gold, silver and precious stones which is knowledge. They are also filled with noble thoughts and high ideals. A man who does not read is poor and his life is empty.

A book is a medium for recording information in the form of writing or images, typically composed of many pages bound together and protected by a cover. The technical term for this physical arrangement is codex (plural, codices).The word book comes from the Old English word ‘bōc’ which in its turn comes from a Germanic root bōk-, which means ‘beech’ – as in the beech tree.

First paper book

The first actual book written on paper is said to have been made in China. It is supposed to have been created using mulberries, hemp, bark and even fish to form a big pulp, which was then pressed and dried to form paper. Each sheet of paper was roughly the size of a newspaper sheet and was called a leaf.

A clay tablet

Books have been a part of our daily lives since ancient times. They have been used for telling stories, archiving history, and sharing information a bout our world. Although the ways that books are made have evolved over time, whether handwritten, printed on pages or digitalised online, their value and the need for them remains timeless.

History of books

The history of books became an acknowledged academic discipline in the 1980s. Its key purpose is to demonstrate that the book is an object and is not just the text contained within it and that it is also a conduit of interaction between readers and words.

Ancient types of books

Around the second or third century CE, the Romans began to create the first books. Clay tablets were used in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BCE. The calamus, an instrument with a triangular point, was used to inscribe characters on moist clay.

Fire was used to dry the tablets. A codex was an ancient book form in which individual sheets of papyrus, parchment or paper were folded in half and sewn together at the fold.

The reader would open the pages to reveal two columns of text that shared a page. In the 14th century, the Jikji was printed in Korea in movable (metal) type. It was a collection of Zen Buddhist teachings.

First printing press

A century later, in 1454, a German called Johannes Gutenburg built a printing press to print the Gutenburg Bible, which led to printers springing up all across Europe. The first book ever written using a typewriter was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The very first book was printed on paper in China, using a block of wood that had characters carved in reverse relief. Ink was then placed on the block of wood to create a print on paper. A Buddhist holy text, the Diamond Sūtra is considered to be the oldest surviving dated printed book in the world.

Found in a walled up cave in China along with other printed materials, the book is made up of Chinese characters printed on a scroll of grey paper, wrapped around a wooden pole.

Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. Books speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. Reading is good for you because it improves your focus, memory, empathy, and communication skills. It can reduce stress, improve your mental health, and help you live happily.

Reading can also prevent age-related cognitive decline. To read more, set aside time every day to pick up a book, whether it is during your commute or before bed. Twenty-six percent of those who had read a book in the past 12 months have said that what they enjoyed most was gaining knowledge. Fifteen percent cited the pleasures of escaping reality, becoming immersed in another world and the enjoyment they got from using their imagination.

Books play a quintessential role in every student's life by introducing them to a world of imagination, providing knowledge of the outside world, improving their reading, writing and speaking skills as well as boosting memory.

A book is a book, whether you read it in physical or virtual form. Books can even be read to you by another person, usually a professional actor or narrator – this is called an Audio book. An eBook is an electronic version of a traditional print book that can be read by using a personal computer or by using an eBook reader. The aim of eBooks is to simplify and enhance the overall learning experience. Digital books make the learning process more interactive and engaging.

The Internet does have many sites on books which give recommendations on what to read, which leads to some harmony between the web and books. There is even an app called ‘12min’ which condenses leading non-fiction books to a 12-minute read for those leading busy lives. These include combinatory poetics, hypertext fiction, interactive fiction (and other game-based digital literary work), kinetic and interactive poetry, and networked writing based on our collective experience of the Internet. If you do not have time to read, it will read the book for you.

National Literary Month

In Sri Lanka and in many other countries, September is celebrated as the National Literary Month. The biggest event in the Literary Month is the Colombo International Book Fair, which commences on September 22 at the BMICH. Nearly one-million people attend this exhibition every year, giving us a glimmer of hope that the reading habit is alive and well. This is the time to encourage the young people in your life to go to the library or bookshop, pick up a good book, and explore new worlds.

The blessings which the reading habit brings us are many. Books are the most faithful of friends. Our friends may change or leave us but our books are always patiently waiting to speak to us. They are never cross, peevish or unwilling to converse, as our friends sometimes are. No wonder, that a reader becomes a ‘Book Lover’.