What is a book, exactly?
Technically and rudimentarily speaking, it’s a compendium of pages bound together with a protective cover.
The word “book” is also used to describe stories and other recorded words on materials other than paper.
We won’t dive into the minutia of what constitutes a tome and what doesn’t, but we are unpacking 15 interesting facts about books below.
- 15 Random and Fun Facts About Books Every Writer Should Know
- 1. Millions of Books Have Been Published
- 2. There’s No Consensus on the Longest Book Ever Written
- 3. Gutenberg’s Press Changed the Game
- 4. The Bible is the Best-Selling Book of All Time
- 5. A Tale of Two Cities Is the Best-Selling Fiction Book of All Time
- 6. Bill Gates Owns the World’s Most Expensive Book
- 7. Mesopotamia Was the Birthplace of the Written Word
- 8. Artistic Book Covers First Appeared in the 1800s
- 9. Book History Became an Accepted Academic Field in the 1980s
- 10. An Indiana Man Has the World’s Largest Private Book Collection
- 11. Illuminated Manuscripts and Asian Philosophical Texts Were Likely the First Books
- 12. Tom Sawyer Holds An Important Distinction in Book History
- 13. Icelanders Are the World’s Reading Champs
- 14. Metal Moveable Type Invented by a Korean in the 1300s
- 15. The Good Earth Was the First Mass Distributed Paperback Book in the United States.
- The Benefits of Knowing Facts About Books
15 Random and Fun Facts About Books Every Writer Should Know
We love trivia around here. So today, we’re looking at 15 fun book facts.
1. Millions of Books Have Been Published
As of this writing, over 130 million books have been published. This figure is bound to rise as the number of self-published works increases each year exponentially.
Although more and more books are being written and published, consumers are buying less and less. According to Berrett-Koehler Publishers, the average U.S. book sells fewer than 200 copies yearly and only 1,000 over its lifetime.
2. There’s No Consensus on the Longest Book Ever Written
The record keepers at Guinness give the award for the longest book ever written to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (In Search of Lost Time / À la Recherche du Temps Perdu).
The work contains about 9,609,000 words (depending on the translation). However, it’s got seven volumes, which some argue disqualifies it as a single book.
Due to the disagreements, other contenders for the title of longest book include:
- Marienbad My Love by Mark Lynch
- The Blah Story by Nigel Tomm
- One Piece by Various Artists and compiled by Ilan Manouach
Why can’t people agree on the longest book ever written? They squabble about definitional details, like “What constitutes a book?” and “Should books broken up into volumes count as a single book?”
3. Gutenberg’s Press Changed the Game
Craftsman Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg made today’s books possible when he invented the printing press in 1440.
The first mass-produced book off his press was the Bible, with about 180-piece print run in 1455. However, only 145 were printed on paper because they ran out and printed the last 35 on vellum.
Of the original 180, 49 survived into the twentieth century, but only 21 are complete.
4. The Bible is the Best-Selling Book of All Time
To date, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. However, the Quran and Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book are gaining ground on the long-time record holder.
Notably, due to a lack of comprehensive sales figures, current calculations don’t include some of the most popular books of all time, including:
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
5. A Tale of Two Cities Is the Best-Selling Fiction Book of All Time
Did you just think: No, Harry Potter is the best-selling fiction book of all time? It’s a fair question.
The difference is that Harry Potter is a series of books. So yes, overall, as a collected work, the series reigns as the best-selling fiction series of all time.
However, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, with over 200 million copies sold and counting, is the best-selling single fiction novel to date.
Circling back to Harry Potter: Even though it’s one of the most-read fiction books of all time, the wizarding series also ranks among the most banned books in the United States.
6. Bill Gates Owns the World’s Most Expensive Book
In 1994, Bill Gates slapped down $30.8 million (today: about $54.4 million) for the Codex Leicester. A 72-page compilation of Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific writings, the Codex was published in 1510.
Why is it called the Codex Leicester if da Vinci wrote it? Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester, was the first individual to buy the book at auction in 1719.
After purchasing, Gates scanned the Codex and turned it into a Windows 95 screensaver.
7. Mesopotamia Was the Birthplace of the Written Word
Some people mistakenly think that writing was invented in Europe by the Romans and Greeks.
But the honor goes to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, in the region of modern-day Iraq, who created Cuneiform.
The language made an appearance around 3000 BC. Latin showed up 2,300 years later, in 700 BC, about 1100 years after Cuneiform became effectively extinct.
8. Artistic Book Covers First Appeared in the 1800s
Mass-produced books printed before the late 19th century didn’t contain artwork on the cover. While there were special edition books with hand-crafted art, books that people could buy in a store didn’t feature cover art that referenced the book’s content.
That all changed in the 1820s when steam-powered presses made books cheaper to manufacture. The invention also made it feasible to include cover art that better marketed the works.
9. Book History Became an Accepted Academic Field in the 1980s
Believe it or not, the history of books didn’t become an acknowledged academic field of study until the 1980s. Book historians know a lot about:
- Textual Scholarship
- Art History
- Social History
- Cultural History
10. An Indiana Man Has the World’s Largest Private Book Collection
The Guinness World Records cites John Q. Benham of Indiana, USA, as the owner of the most extensive private book collection. Benham’s bevy of books clocks in at over 1.5 million.
He keeps them all over his home in addition to several outside storage facilities. Some even live outside.
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11. Illuminated Manuscripts and Asian Philosophical Texts Were Likely the First Books
What is the first book ever written? The honor usually goes to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
But we disagree.
For starters, Gilgamesh is a poem. Moreover, it wasn’t written on paper but instead carved into tablets. So, technically, it wasn’t a book. Was it the first story written down? Sure. But its status as the first book is a bit of a misnomer.
In truth, nobody is certain which book could be considered the first. It was likely a religious or philosophical manuscript, which began popping up in Europe and Asia in 500 CE. We do know that Ts’ai Lun invented paper in 105 CE under the patronage of the Han Dynasty.
12. Tom Sawyer Holds An Important Distinction in Book History
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book to be written on a typewriter. Published in 1876, it’s widely revered as a masterpiece of American literature to this day.
Twain had many typewriters, but Sawyer was likely written on a Sholes and Glidden manufactured by Remington.
13. Icelanders Are the World’s Reading Champs
Icelanders read more than any other country. A whopping third of the island’s population reads or listens to one book a day! The remaining population consumes about 2.4 a month, on average.
How do Americans compare? Reading in the United States is on the decline, with only about 27% of the population reading ten or more books a year. Moreover, 17% of adults admitted to not reading a single book in the past year.
14. Metal Moveable Type Invented by a Korean in the 1300s
Gutenberg gets a lot of credit for inventing the printing press. And rightfully so.
But he probably wouldn’t have come up with the idea if Korean Bi Shing hadn’t invented the concept of metal movable type. He printed the Jikji (the oldest preserved book printed using movable metal type) 78 years before Gutenberg conceptualized his machine.
15. The Good Earth Was the First Mass Distributed Paperback Book in the United States.
What was the first paperback book printed and widely distributed in the United States? The answer is Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. Published in 1931, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year and contributed to Buck’s 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature.
The Benefits of Knowing Facts About Books
Why is it good to know facts about books? Here are a few reasons:
- Knowing interesting facts about books gives you an air of intelligence. People filled with book trivia appear smarter (even when they may not be the brightest person in the room).
- The more facts you know about anything, the more scholarly you actually become.
- Knowing more facts about books improves brain connectivity.
Writing and books are two fundamental reasons humans developed into the world’s dominant species. Through them, we could pass on knowledge, histories, and life-affirming stories. Moreover, studies show that reading books makes you more intelligent, wiser, and compassionate.
So try to pick up a tome daily. Even 10 minutes a day will make a difference and put you ahead of the pack.