30 May 2008

Wild goose chase

There are lots of cool books in this world. The limited edition of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 that's bound in asbestos, for example. The edition of Snowblind bound in mirrors. Or, less sensationally, anything printed by the Golden Cockerel Press.

However my favourite book ever in the world ever is, for utterly trivial reasons, Gerard's Herbal. First published 1597 and then reprinted in the 1630s, it's one of the most astonishingly illustrated books ever - more woodcuts than you can shake a 2B pencil at (and I should know, I've counted them). I know it's all important for its impact on contemporary botany and medicine blah blah blah, but I just like the bit where he very seriously imparts how barnacle geese hatch from barnacles...

"When it is perfectly formed, the shell gapeth open, and the first thing that appeareth is the foresaid lace or string; next come the legs of the bird hanging out and as it groweth greater, it openeth the shell by degrees, till at length it is all come forth, and hangeth only by the bill. In short space after it cometh to full maturity, and falleth into the sea, where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a fowl, bigger than a mallard, and lesser than a goose; having black legs, and a bill or beak, and feathers black and white... For the truth hereof, if any doubt, may it please them to repair unto me, and I shall satisfy them by the testimony of credible witnesses"

Or the testimony of pissed-up sailors, maybe. It's also illustrated by this rather wonderful and entirely unconvincing woodcut...

Facts? Who needs them.

28 May 2008

Smart casual, Garden of Eden style

Undoubtedly the most printed book in history is the Bible. It said so in the Observer book of half-arsed book facts last Sunday and everything. What was actually interesting was that Mao's little red book was in second above the Koran, in only half a century. The awesome power of a totalitarian book club.

Anyway, over time errors crept in and out, one of the most famous being the Breeches Bible. It's not actually a single edition, more a series of editions using the same text over a period of perhaps 80 years, mostly printed in Geneva from around 1560. We just got one in and it's very cool. See below in Genesis chapter 3, verse vii, how it got the name...

We've also got a very rare Hungover Typesetter's Bible that starts "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was, oh bollocks, this is all rubbish isn't it? I'm off for a pint. If the Bishop wants it by Friday he can print it himself. What's this? Snakes? Apples? You what?" and kind of goes downhill from there. But it's too fragile to scan, sadly.

07 May 2008

Not big, not clever

I don't care what anyone else says, I love Lolcats. Particularly this one...