by Janet Spencer

Participants who engaged in just six minutes of reading for pleasure were found to have a significantly slower heart rate and reduced muscle tension. Reading was even more efficient at inducing relaxation than listening to music, drinking hot tea, or taking a walk. Come along with Tidbits as we read books!


•  The first known “book” ever written was the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Written in cuneiform script on a series of 12 clay tablets, this long poem was composed around 2100 B.C. in what is now Iraq. Discovered in the ruins of the Ashurbanipal library in 1853, it tells the story the king of the city of Uruk. Today, you can download the Epic of Gilgamesh as an e-book to your tablet or phone.

• A Greek guy named Chariton of Aphrodisias wrote a steamy romance on papyrus around the year 123 A.D. Entitled “Chaereas & Callirhoe” it is the oldest existing novel in the world. This work of fiction follows the adventures of a newlywed couple as her former suitors team up in an attempt to break them up. They experience a series of perilous adventures in Sicily, Persia, and Egypt, before ending up living happily ever after. The book, originally written in Latin, was resurrected, translated into Greek, and published in Greece in the mid-1700s.

Johannes Gutenberg spent 20 years in the mid-1400s perfecting the first method of printing using moveable type and a press. He was a skilled metalworker and was familiar with tools.    To typeset the Bible required 2,500 individual pieces of type for each page. He used animal skin parchment because paper hadn’t been invented yet, and each Gutenberg Bible required the skins of 300 sheep. Ink was made from pine shavings and soot. It took three years to produce the Bibles, which had 1,284 pages each. He printed 200 of them, and 47 still survive. However, Gutenberg went heavily into debt to develop this technique.    The same year the Bibles were completed, his financier confiscated all his equipment and used it to make himself rich. Gutenberg died in poverty, yet his name lives on today.

• Prior to the invention of the printing press, each book had to be hand-copied. This was usually done by monks, simply because clergy were among the most literate citizens. They had to know how to read in order to read the Bible. When Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1440s, a domino effect occurred. Books became cheap, portable, and popular, spurring a rise in literacy rates.

• In the year 1640, just 20 years after the first pilgrims landed in Plymouth, the people of Cambridge, Massachusetts decided that the books of Bible psalms they brought with them from the old country were outdated. They commissioned local scholars to create a new translation of the original Hebrew Psalms. Using the latest in Gutenberg technology, they printed 1,700 copies of the “Bay Psalm Book.” It was the first book ever printed in North America. Of the original 1,700 copies, eleven still exist, and of those, only five are complete. One of the complete versions sold at auction in New York in 2012, fetching a price of $14,165,000.

The only book that’s ever fetched a higher price was Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester” which was a hand-written notebook containing da Vinci’s scientific notes and drawings. Bill Gates bought it for $30.8 million in 1994. But it doesn’t count as a printed, published book, since it was a diary.

• In 1995, the first book ever purchased on Amazon was Douglas Hofstadter’s “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.” This newly published book used computer modeling to explore the mechanisms of intelligence.

• The first e-book in the world was The Declaration of Independence, released in 1971. At that time, passionate technologist and futurist Michael Stern Hart was given access to a Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the University of Illinois. Inspired by a free printed copy of the Declaration of Independence, he decided to transcribe it into the computer. He made the file available to other users of the computer network, with the annotation that it was free to use and distribute – marking the beginning of the legendary Project Gutenberg, an initiative dedicated to making books freely available in digital format. The first e-book in the world is still available at Project Gutenberg.

• Amazon’s first generation Kindle e-reader, released on November 19, 2007, sold out in less than six hours, remaining out of stock for five months before being restocked in April of 2008. It cost $399, and with 250 MB of internal storage, it could hold up to 200 books at a time, provided they were text only and had no illustrations. It also had a speaker and a headphone jack for listening to audio files.

• A 2020 survey shows that print is still the most popular book format in the United States, with 75% of people surveyed preferring print to e-books or audiobook.

Today, it’s estimated that over 2 million new books are published annually worldwide. Publishers in the U.S. turn out about 300,000 new titles every year. China, Britain, and Japan also top the list of countries that publish the most new books each year.

• In 2016, it was estimated that there were over 130 million unique books in existence, not including self-published books or e-books.

• New York Best Sellers account for just 0.5% of all published books each year: out of every 100,000 new titles, only 500 make it to the New York Times best-sellers list.

• The average book published in America sells about 500 copies. Only 2% of the titles published in the U.S. each year sell more than 5,000 copies.

• The Bible is considered to be the world’s best-selling book, with over six billion copies distributed, in 300 different languages.

• “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung” has sold an estimated 1 billion copies. Also known as the “Little Red Book”, this 116-page compilation of statements from the former Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party was first published in 1964.

• Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, is the largest bookstore in the world based on shelf space. It has 1.6 acres of retail floor space covering an entire city block.

• The oldest bookstore in the world is located in Lisbon, Portugal. Called Livraria Bertrand, it has been operating since 1732.

• India is the country that reads the most, with an average Indian reading 10.7 hours every week. Thailand and China come second and third, with 9.24 and 8 hours per week respectively. By comparison, Americans read half as much, with only a little over 5 hours a week.