Mundal, Norway Is Home to More Books Than People

Markus Tacker, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Markus Tacker, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Mundal, Norway, isn't the busiest town in Norway, but as long you're an avid reader, you'll never get bored there. According to Travel + Leisure, Mundal is home to more books than people, a distinction earning it the nickname "The Norwegian Book Town."

Mundal is small, with only 280 residents, but it boasts an impressive second-hand books scene, with roughly 150,000 books scattered throughout the town. And the reading materials aren't limited to its many secondhand book shops: They can be found in abandoned sheds, a grocery store, a post office, and even an old ferry waiting area. If all the bookshelves in the town were lined up end-to-end, they would cover more than 2.5 miles.

Only accessible by boat until the mid-1990s, Mundal is one of the most isolated book towns on Earth. Picking up a literary souvenir from the town isn't easy, as it's only open to visitors during the warmer months from May though September. To get your hands on a book from Mundal without booking a trip to Norway, you can purchase one online.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

9 Handy Facts About the History of Handwriting

iStock
iStock

While today we can get machines to write for us, for most of human history, writing was a manual endeavor. And there are people who are super passionate about keeping it that way. Some schools are building handwriting requirements into their curriculums, although even the positive research results on the benefits of handwriting over typing aren’t big enough to be super conclusive, and some studies find that cursive, in particular, probably isn’t any better than other methods of putting words to paper. But handwriting has a long and storied tradition in human history, and if only for that reason, it’s not going away anytime soon. In honor of National Handwriting Day, here are some facts about handwriting through the ages, courtesy of Anne Trubek’s recently published book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting.

1. The world's first writing system was tiny.

Cuneiform, the Sumerian writing system that emerged from Mesopotamia 5000 years ago, was usually etched into clay tablets that were often only a few inches wide. Trubek describes most of the Cuneiform tablets she handled at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York as being only half the size of her iPhone. "Find the second portrait of Lincoln on the penny," a Morgan Library curator told her. "You know, the one of his statue inside the Lincoln Memorial on the obverse? That’s how small the script can be."

2. Medieval writing was regional.


A 12th century Austrian manuscript

After the fall of the Roman Empire, different scripts developed regionally as writers embellished and tweaked existing systems to create their own styles. However, this made books a little hard to read for those not educated in that exact script. All books were written in Latin, but the letters were so different that many scribes couldn’t read writing from other regions.

3. There is an entire filed devoted to reading handwriting.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t decipher other people’s writing easily. "The truth is, most of us already cannot read 99 percent of the historic record," Trubek writes. Paleographers study for years to specialize in particular scripts used in a certain time and certain context, such as medieval book scripts or 18th century legal documents. "In other words," Trubek points out, "even someone whose life work is dedicated to reading cursive cannot read most cursive."

4. Charlemagne was a stickler for handwriting.

The emperor—who was largely illiterate himself—decreed in the 9th century that the same script be used across the Holy Roman Empire, an area that covered most of Western Europe. Called Carolingian minuscule, the uniform script dominated writing in France, Germany, Northern Italy, and England until the 11th century. The Gothic script we associate with medieval times today is a derivation of Carolingian minuscule that popped up during the 12th century. It was later revived in the 15th century, and became the basis for Western typography.

5. Monks were not fans of printing presses.


Reading a first proof-sheet from a printing press in Westminster Abbey, March 1474.
Getty Images

The 15th century monk Johannes Trithemius defended the need for handwriting in his essay "In Praise of Scribes." He claimed that while scripture could last 1000 years, the printed book was "thing of paper and in a short time will decay entirely." Printing would make books unsightly and introduce spelling errors, and he predicted that history would judge "the manuscript book superior to the printed book." It had nothing to do with him losing his once-steady job to a machine, no. Indeed, Martin Luther complained of books much like people today complain about the quality of writing online, saying "the multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure or limit to this form of writing."

6. The first font was very script-like.

The first printed books were designed to look a whole lot like the manuscripts of that day, so as not to shock people with newfangled design. Johannes Gutenberg and his hired craftsmen hand-carved an elaborate Gothic script into 290 unique characters for the printing press, allowing the printer to recreate every letter in upper- and lowercase, as well as punctuation, so that the type looked just like what a scribe would make. The first letters of every section were even red, just like manuscript style dictated.

7. Historically, handwriting professionals were quite upwardly mobile.


Circa 1450, a medieval master writing with quill and parchment in his study.
Getty Images

When printing put scribes out of work, they instead became teachers, tutoring and writing books on penmanship. These writing masters became wealthy professionals in a way that they had never been as simple scribes. When businesses and governments began hiring secretaries for the first time, who would take dictation and have a working knowledge of several different scripts, it became an unusually effective way to rise up the class ranks in medieval Europe. The papal secretary was the highest position a commoner could occupy in society.

8. In the 17th century, handwriting was personally revealing.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, different scripts became more than just a sign of where you learned. Specific scripts were established for classes and professions, and even for gender. Wealthy Europeans would use one script for their personal correspondence and another for their legal and business correspondence. A whole host of scripts in England were developed just for court use, making many documents completely illegible to anyone not trained in that specific style of writing.

9. Punctuation was rare until the 18th century.

Before literacy became widespread, spelling varied widely from person to person, and nothing was standardized. It became uniform over time, and the first dictionaries weren’t published until the 17th century. Even then, standardized spelling didn’t become regular for another century. Punctuation was even worse, remaining "largely nonexistent or nonstandardized," according to Trubek, until the 18th century.

This story originally ran in 2016.

Two Harry Potter Books Worth Nearly $4000 Showed Up on Antiques Roadshow

Another inscribed first-edition Harry Potter book, shown at The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh in 2017
Another inscribed first-edition Harry Potter book, shown at The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh in 2017
Neil Hanna, AFP/Getty Images

First-edition Harry Potter books are extremely valuable—even more so if their pages contain a handwritten note from JK Rowling herself. A schoolteacher who owns early copies of Harry Potter book 1 and 2 in the series had both of these factors working in her favor when she brought them to the BBC program Antiques Roadshow for appraisal. Together, the two books are worth £2,000 to £3,000 (approximately $2600 to $3900), according to expert Justin Croft, who evaluated the books in a recent episode filmed in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

As the Daily Express reports, a well-read paperback copy of the first book, dated 1997 and bearing the British title Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was not a first edition. However, it did contain a thoughtful handwritten note from the author—a clear indication that it was signed prior to Rowling’s rise to stardom.

“It says, I think, ‘To the Pope family, with many thanks for introducing Harry to so many people, JK Rowling,’” Croft says, reading the inscription aloud. The second book, a first-edition hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets from 1998, also contained an inscription which read, “To the Pope family, again, hope you like this one as much, JK Rowling.”

The owner of the books said she read Harry Potter to her primary school students about 20 years ago. When she learned that Rowling would be doing a book signing nearby, she decided to bring her students along. “The children were so excited about it. They wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters next and they came in with money to buy the new book,” she said. “And JK Rowling took an hour with us.”

Once Rowling became a household name, she hardly had time to write a personalized note for every fan. “This is right almost back at the beginning where she’s signing quite generously, quite fully,” Croft said of the books, explaining their value.

After learning the estimate of the books, the owner replied, “I think they will be going in Gringotts’s vault tonight.”

[h/t Daily Express]

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