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What it Meant to Read a Book in the Year 748 AD; What it Means Now

A little perspective.

In the year 748 AD, if you wanted to read a book, an honest-to-God book, with words in it and maybe a story … you had to be one of the fifty literate people within 500 miles. Then you had to trade something or sell something to get the book (which probably took some illiterate monks up to 2 years to copy for you). A sizable tract of land might do, or a prized war-horse, or possibly your second daughter. Then you would have: a book. One book.

It is the year 2013 AD. You have Wikipedia. You have Google. You have streaming TV and movies with low-cost memberships. If you’re into ebooks, you can buy a kindle for $79, spend an hour loading it up with 100 free classics of great literature, and you have your own library, a little larger than a wallet. If you’re not into ebooks, you can probably get a good story to read for a few dollars at your local used bookstore. Or, for free, you can visit the public library and be surrounded by more books than the total number of people that your ancestors in 748 AD saw in their entire lives.

That ought to be awe-inspiring.

Really step back and consider that for a moment.

You can afford … unlimited stories. Even if you’re broke and can’t afford FOOD, you can afford unlimited stories. You are the only generation in human history that can make such a boast.

Take a moment and think about just how incomparably wealthy and lucky and blessed that makes you.

Your ancestor of 748 AD might have been willing to sell one of his family into slavery in order to purchase the smallest literary crumb from your table.

You ought to be awed.

No matter what tragedies are besieging your life, whether financial, medical, or other … this is something to be awed about. This is something worth sitting back for a moment and thinking, “Wow.”

I am thankful to be alive and literate in such a time. We have a lot to deal with in this century, and it’s damned scary. But this…our free or low-cost access to unlimited stories…this is our biggest Wow.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

5 thoughts on “What it Meant to Read a Book in the Year 748 AD; What it Means Now

  1. I’ve often thought about what my situation would have been like as a woman in a different time. As a woman of mixed heritage, I can’t help but feel grateful that I was born in this time and in a democratic society.

  2. We can buy novels at the grocery store along with our beans and bread. How cool is that? Books are a staple. Don’t forget to pick up the latest Suzanne Collins when you pick up your milk. If you just read the books you can buy in the checkout stand, you will be on George Eliot in no time. Grocery store books are gateway books.

    There are also lots of people in my book group who have trouble deciphering the written word but have come to love story through audiobooks. Don’t just read books, breathe them in and out. Talk about them, blog about them, write fanfiction but don’t forget how privileged you are.

    Great post. Thank you!

  3. […] no matter how bleak things may appear, one thing that we can celebrate with our whole hearts is our access to nearly unlimited stories, that in an often-dark century, that is our single greatest “Wow,” an advancement our […]

  4. […] 2. If we *are* going to talk about “impressive,” my kindle holds over 10 times the number of books shown in that photograph. You know what’s “impressive”? Carrying an entire library in the palm of my hand is impressive. In the Middle Ages, I could have bought most of Europe with that quantity of books. […]

  5. […] depreciated over time, you should be aware of what a great deal that is. By this reckoning – – those 30 books are equivalent in value to half of Europe. If you lived in 748 […]

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