Amazing book facts all readers should know

Keep these tucked in your back pocket, and you'll never fail to impress.

Black background with 'Bibliosmia?' written i white with a picture of a nose, and the definition 'the word for loving the smell of a book' written below in red.
Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

How much of your time do you spend talking about books, reading and authors? If you’re anything like us, then it’s a lot. 

There’s always plenty to talk about, from your latest read to a debate on whether you should read in the bath, but if you really want to impress, why not go for a book-related fact?

Stun friends and family, or ensure your quiz team emerges triumphant, with these essential book facts every reader should know. 

Short and sweet

A typical fiction book will come in at anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words – that’s probably a lot of chapters. But those chapters don’t always have to be lengthy to have impact, as some of the shortest chapters in books illustrate. We love chapter 19 of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is just five words long: “My mother is a fish.” And Stephen King’s Misery contains a chapter that is just one word long: “Rinse.”

But the award for the shortest chapter published in a book goes to Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne, which has no words.

Let's have a word

Do you love the smell of a new book? Are you scared of running out of reading material? Do you have piles of unread books in your home? Well, book lover, there are words to describe all of those things. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, the word for loving the smell of a book is bibliosmia, while the Macmillan Dictionary says the word for those afraid of running out of things to read is abibliphobia. 

If you’re in the latter camp, then you’re an abibliophobe and you likely have to read stacks everywhere you can fit them. In which case, the word tsundoku is a good one to have in your vocabulary: it’s Japanese for letting reading materials pile up in your home but never reading them.

The name's Gardner, not Fleming

You might think that James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, who wrote 14 novels about the British spy, would hold the record for the most stories about his hero. But the most prolific author of works about Bond is actually UK writer John Gardner, who produced 14 Bond novels and two screenplay adaptations between 1981 and 1996, according to Guinness World Records.

A book a day

In recent years, the release of Barack Obama’s summer and end of year reading lists have been the cause of much excitement. The former president is known to be a keen reader, but he doesn’t hold the title of the president who was the most voracious reader. That goes to Theodore Roosevelt, who led the US from 1901 to 1909, and read an average of a book a day, even while serving as president. The Theordore Roosevelt Centre says he "usually read several books at a time, rotating between them depending on his activities and/or his mood".

Books to (literally) transport you

We all know that books can whisk you away to lands near and far, but if you’re driving through the M6 toll you’re literally being taken somewhere via books. That’s because around 2.5million old copies of Mills & Boon books were pulped and used in the preparation of the top layer of the motorway, building materials supplier Tarmac revealed shortly after the toll opened in 2003.

The price of books

What would you expect of the most expensive book ever sold? Perhaps you’d think it would be have real gold inlayed on the cover, and be printed on some of the rarest paper ever. Maybe you’d expect it to be big, and very, very old. On one count, you’d be right, but it might surprise you to learn that the most expensive book ever sold consists of just 36 sheets of paper and includes, among other things, an explanation of why the fossils of sea creatures can be found on mountains. The Codex of Leicester, written by Leonardo da Vinci, was sold at auction to Bill Gates in November 1994 for $30,802,500. In 2019, that was equivalent to $53,222,898.79. There’s a book whose corners you won’t be turning down.

'The most expensive book ever sold?' written in white next to a picture of Leonardo da Vinci with the figure $53,222,898.79 written below in big red lettes.
Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

New technology

There’s a romanticism associated with writing books: perhaps you picture an author in a beautifully decorated attic garret writing on parchment with a quill pen. But that image hasn’t been accurate since at least the late 1800s, when Mark Twain became the first “important writer”, according to The New Yorker, to deliver a typewritten manuscript to a publisher. That manuscript was for Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, published in 1883.

A long read

You might have some long books on your bookshelves, but do you have the longest novel ever written? That would be Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (translated as Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust. According to Guinness World Records it contains an estimated 9,609,000 characters, including spaces.

The first volume of the book – the first of 13 volumes – was published in 1913.

No age limit

Age is no barrier when it comes to writing books, or winning awards for them. The Booker Prize – arguably the most prestigious prize in English-language literature – has awarded both its youngest and oldest winners in the last decade.

The youngest is Eleanor Catton, who won for her novel The Luminaries in 2013, when she was aged just 28.

And the oldest winner is Margaret Atwood, who won aged 79 in 2019 for The Testaments. She shared the award that year with Bernardine Evaristo, who won for Girl, Woman, Other.

A human connection

Most books are made and bound, unsurprisingly, from paper and card. But Harvard University has at least one title that is bound in something far more disturbing: human skin. Houghton Library, part of the American university, contains  Arsène Houssaye’s Des destinées de l’ame. In the mid-1880s Houssaye gave his book to his friend Dr Ludovic Bouland, who bound the book with skin from the unclaimed body of a female mental patient who had died of a stroke. A note from Bouland in the book reads: "A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman.” The Wellcome Library in the UK also contains a book bound in human skin: Séverin Pineau’s De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis.

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