Historical Paper in Books

I was going to write some reviews today, but I got hit hard by the flu yesterday and can barely do anything today.

Yep, I’ve just become part of the Boston Public Health Emergency. It’s only logical I would get it, since I don’t get much sleep and I ride public transportation for about 2.5 hours each day.

So even though I’m not posting for real, I want to bring up something that irks me in the books I’ve been reading lately. There’s a real lack of knowledge about old books. I’m currently reading Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn, and shuddered when I got to this passage:

With eager fingers, I opened the burlap and gasped with delight. It was Doctor William Harvey’s On the Motion of the Heart and Blood. Gingerly I turned the yellowed, crumbling pages.

What’s so bad about that? It gives a false impression of this book. First published in 1628, this book would NOT have “yellowed, crumbling pages.” Those suggest acidic pages, probably made from wood pulp, that we first really started seeing in books in the 19th century, AFTER when this story is supposed to take place.

I checked the University of Edinburgh’s library catalog, where the book in the story supposedly comes from, and found that they do indeed have the first edition. In 1628, paper was made mainly from old rags of cotton and linen, and was of much better quality than most of the paper we have today. As a result, when you open books from that era today, the paper is beautiful. It’s almost never yellowed, never crumbling.

Want to see what the volume looks like? Here’s an article about it from the Royal Society of Medicine, along with an image of the title page.

What really gets me is that Weyn has a section in the back to explain all of the historical stuff in her book. I just want authors who write about rare books to have a *little bit* of understanding about them. Is that too much to ask? Am I weirdo for always flipping out about this?

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2 Responses to Historical Paper in Books

  1. I’ll be reading that book, and I’m definitely going to be pointing people here. That’s sad. We don’t know better because of pop culture. Thanks for this. Very cool! Also, I hope you’re well by now!

    • Audrey Audrey says:

      It’s just one of those little things that irks me, you know? Like historical fiction that uses words that didn’t exist in the period when the story takes place. I recently read one where the story was happening in the late 1700s and they used the word hypnotized, which was a word that wasn’t coined until the mid 1800s. Little things like that will yank me right out of a story.

      Thanks for your well wishes. Unfortunately, I’m still fighting this thing. Stupid flu! I have a day to get better before going to Seattle :-/

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