By Melanie Minty, arts columnist
SURREY — Literacy is one of the greatest gifts given to us. Most of us can read and write – and some of us in multiple languages and alphabets. Never underestimate the power of this gift. The masses (that’s most of us) can read and write today because the history of humankind was changed with the invention of the printing press.
The printing press was invented by the German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440. Gutenberg was a goldsmith, but somehow got the idea of how to develop a printing system by adapting the screw-press technology of his time. He designed a hand mold that made possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities. The printing press spread within several decades to more than 200 cities in a dozen European countries. By the 16th century, printing presses in Western Europe had produced more 20 million volumes.
Seems small potatoes today, but with the volume of books, pamphlets and leaflets that could be quickly produced, the art of reading became available to the masses. And, with the enterprise of printing, using a printing press, a new branch of media was born: the press. Wowee, that is what you are reading now. Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg.
It took a bit longer for this revolutionary invention. In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication, which permanently altered the structure of society. It was as revolutionary as the internet is today. This greater availability of information – without Twitter! – increased literacy among the middle classes, broke the control of the literary elite, increased cultural self-awareness and accelerated the development of vernacular languages. In short, literacy defined and preserved cultures and languages.
What we write can be printed – so easy today in our digital universe. Anyone can write and print a book. All you have to have is a basic education, a computer and access to the internet. Want to write your own book? Check out surreylibraries.ca. Local authors can now publish their work online for free through Self-e, brought to you by Surrey Libraries. Your writing will be added to Biblioboard, Surrey’s new online collection, giving you greater exposure.
While Surrey Libraries encourage us to “discover, connect and inspire” they are wholly embracing our brave new world of how books are “printed.” When you go to the website, you will find Book Submissions. Click the download tab to complete the form to submit your print book for consideration. Or, select Pressbooks. This tab is an easy online tool allowing you to create professional quality versions of your book in eBook or print. Or, there is SELF-e, the online tool for author submissions to BiblioBoard.
So you want to write a book? You can do it. The tools are all here and available. Printing books has only been 700 years in the making. The history is important; appreciate the gift of literacy.
One way we can show our appreciation for being able to read printed material is to actually read a book. Surrey Libraries just announced the results of their Favourite Canadian Book Contest. The contest was the library system’s “Canada 150” initiative to celebrate Canadian authors and stories. There were more than 1,500 entries, and a wide variety of titles. Voted top book was Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Judging from the comments received, the book was an inspiration to many growing up in Canada and abroad. Books recently made into movies or TV series ranked very high, with Room (Emma Donoghue), Life of Pi (Yann Martel), The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill) and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) making the top five. Great books, great writers.
One of the greatest writers of the English language is likely William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616. This playwright, poet and actor certainly influenced the shape and scope of the English language. Shakespeare plays are still popular today, with tales that are as true today as they were several hundreds of years ago.
Alchemy Theatre Ensemble, based in New Westminster, connects with Vagabond Players to bring us Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost at Bernie Legg Theatre in Queen’s Park from Aug. 10 to 27 (Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sundays at 2 p.m.). Tickets are $15 – a bargain for the Bard – via 604-521-0412 and vagabondplayers.ca/tickets.
Just an historical note about Shakespeare’s plays: They were not written down until they were actually performed. Each actor would get his bit, and the entire play was recorded by a scribe as the performance unfolded. Seems odd for us today, but there were not copyright laws. It’s now OK, though, to print Shakespeare’s plays. Long live literacy! Just be careful what you tweet. We don’t want to ever be sorry that we have learned communication through literacy.