Books Without Paper? E Books? ‘The Justification of Johann Gutenberg’ by Blake Morrison

Surrounded by books

Updated 20 September 2017

I can’t imagine a world without the printed book.   The printing press invented in the early 15th Century changed the world and I don’t believe you can say that about e books.   Johann  Gutenberg, master printer and visionary, suffered in his determination to perfect ‘artificial’ writing. His invention helped spread the Christian Word to all corners of the globe…

Hand-colored woodcut

The Ten Commandments was one of the first documents printed on the first printing press.    Bibles, which took monks months to write and decorate, Johann  could now reproduce in days.   Literacy within the masses had a world-changing ramification; the printing press arguably one of humanity’s greatest inventions.  Arab communication was left behind  because Arabic with all its squiggles and dots was difficult to type set.   Over 600 years ago Johann Gutenberg wrote:

Something of me as I am…

I have hair on my head, thinning,but no beard.

I am tall, five foot six inches.

I have skin white as vellum but less tough.

I am past sixty, one of the few hereabouts to live so long.

I speak German, read Latin and Greek, and struggle with English.

I  have no children I know of.

I owe money to none in Mainz, though some in Strasbourg pursue me for loans and have set the imperial court of Rottweilers at me.

I keep in health by eating plentifully of herbs – sage, rue, tansy, marjoram, southern wood, lemon-balm, mint, fennel and parsley

I do not trust my doctor, who for an aching tooth prescribes  mutton fat mixed with sea-holly.

I have eased my work to half a week.

I am poor in sight and growing worse.

I have no fear of dying.

What I fear is that death will rub out what I have done, till not a trace of me is left upon the earth.

We would never have known  Johann’s  thoughts if he’d not written the words on paper.  Articles and books duplicated on printing presses and ancient writings have survived for hundreds of years – will e books?  I can see the justification of e news displayed on hand-held devices able to be read while commuting on public transport.  But to lose the feel of prose and poetry bound up in a book to be read anywhere from bath to beach?!  I know of many young people who survived their brutal childhoods by reading books which carried them away to some other place to dream and be inspired.  No machine was needed to open a world to hide in.  Imagine no bookshelves lined with books-our hundreds of books which line bookshelves in our home add a vibrancy and many talking points. We never miss  First Tuesday Book Club on ABC 1. It is amazing how many classics reappear to be re-read time and again.  No, Johann, we wont give up our precious books to technology.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 23 November 2013



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