Books and Stories From the Past

Just for fun, for today’s blog post I thought I’d share some interesting links about stories from the past.

Coloring Books

First up are a couple links about coloring books. Apparently, coloring books started out as meant for adults. According to Time, there are early coloring books from the 1600s that depict engraved maps, and it was a trend to color the maps in yourself. Later, coloring became good artistic practice. Hyperallergic also published about early coloring books. A botanical coloring book for adults was published in 1760, called The Florist. It was meant for “serious adult colorists” to hone their skills.


In the world of libraries, according to Atlas Obscura, the ancient world had fierce library wars. One example is the rivalry between “the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum in the city of Pergamon—present-day Bergama, Turkey.” Kings wanted to show off their wealth with their libraries, and the libraries competed for the same books, parchments, and scholars. However, this rivalry helped encourage scholarship and preservation.

Libraries have also been known to travel. According to Open Culture, there was a “Jacobean Travelling Library” in 1617. It’s a big book that holds 50 mini books inside, and three of them were made.

Libraries also sometimes carry dangerous books. One example is Shadows From the Wall of Death, an arsenic-laden book printed in 1874. According to Atlas Obscura:

The book is the work of Dr. Robert M. Kedzie, a Union surgeon during the American Civil War and later professor of chemistry at Michigan State Agricultural college (now MSU). When he came to serve on the state’s Board of Health in the 1870s, he set out to raise awareness about the dangers of arsenic-pigmented wallpaper. Though a lethal toxin, arsenic can be mixed with copper and made into beautiful paints and pigments, most commonly Scheele’s Green or Paris Green. This was no fringe phenomenon: near the end of the 19th century, the American Medical Association estimated that as much as 65 percent of all wallpaper in the United States contained arsenic.

Rediscovered Books

This one isn’t exactly about books, but according to Atlas Obscura, in 2011 “the REI store in the Puck Building in Manhattan’s SoHo district was undergoing renovation” and workers found 100 lithography stones (the building used to be used for printing). These materials are now on permanent display.

In other rediscovered book news, a Mark Twain’s fairy tale story was recently discovered, according to New York Times. Mark Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Clemens, “told his young daughters Clara and Susie a bedtime story about a poor boy who eats a magic flower that gives him the ability to talk to animals.” Twain wrote a lot of notes on the story, though it’s not clear why he never wrote the full story. Now, his work is being finished and will be published.

(On a separate note, if you’re ever looking to read old stories, you should check out The Public Domain Review.)

Stories That Shaped Culture

Stories have been published for centuries, so naturally there are stories of how they have shaped modern culture. NPR talks about one, Paradise Lost, and how an apple became the forbidden fruit. Apparently, it was a Latin pun!

Authors have also shaped our language. The Guardian wrote about a number of authors who invented words that we use today. Examples include Charles Dickens (“butterfingers”), Ernest Hemingway (“cojones”), and Dr. Seuss (“nerd”).

Books themselves have changed a little over time, in terms of size and shape. Atlas Obscura writes about books that were designed to fit into soldier’s pockets in the 1940s. These books were slim, and postcard-size, so they could easily be carried. This started a new trend, and we still see paperback books today.

Success Stories

There are some great publishing success stories too, such as how One Hundreds Years of Solitude became a classic. According to The Atlantic, this was partly to do with embracing magical realism, having writers and celebrities talk about the book (even negatively), and even other factors such as climate change.

Another success story is Mark Twain’s career. According to the New Yorker, he tried many get-rich-quick schemes. He lost a lot of money, but that encouraged him to write.

For Fun

For fun, here are a few other links to check out.


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