31 October 2010

The Illuminator

Another find at Books for Less just this week.

The book's a bit of fanciful historical fiction, the cover's pretty hokey, and I'm really not into the romance part. But the reason I bought it were the following keywords I saw on the blurb at the back of the book: 'fourteenth century England' and 'master illuminator.' Even though I'm not familiar with the author, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, I figured my interest in feudal England and the history of book making would allow me to enjoy the book.

(Of course, I can't read The Illuminator at once since I'm currently still ploughing through Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale. And I'm pretty aware that several months of reading Ancestor is an inordinately long time to be doing so, but then again--who wants to rush through evolution anyway? But I digress.)

Because I don't know Vantrease's other works, I had to look her up online. Her niche really is on historical fiction peppered with some romance (jeez), but thank God the reviews are saying the history parts in her books are well-researched.

I'm also glad she's into historical accounts of books and book making, because I do read a good deal on that subject, whether fiction or non-fiction. Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness, for example, tackles the obsession of book collecting, and his Patience and Fortitude covers the great libraries of the past, starting with The Library of Alexandria (yay, Egypt!). And then there's a recent read of mine, Orhan Pamuk's award-winning My Name is Red, which is a murder mystery set during the Ottoman Empire, centering on a group of illuminators and miniaturists working for the sultan.

The period before Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press is always fascinating; this was the time when monks in the Western world and Muslim scholars in the East painstakingly created and reproduced books by hand.

Before my former officemate Alexis migrated to Canada with her family, she left with me an old copy of The History of Making Books from the Scholastic Voyages of Discovery series. The book must probably have been owned by one of her kids. It's this lovely little thing that talked about the ancient system of writing and reading in Mesopotamia and Egypt and such, and then how illustrated manuscripts were made in early A.D., and up to the age of printing.

It's a children's book, but I was more than thrilled to inherit it, because the book's subject is something I'm passionate about. I was touched by Alexis' thoughtfulness, for she knew how much I cared about books. This copy of The History of Making Books now sits on my office shelf, and I'm always on the lookout for any visiting children (who are, most of the time, the kids of my officemates) who may be interested enough to see the book, sit down beside me-- and hopefully, ask me to read it with them.


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