Book Reviews

Papyrus: The invention of books in the ancient world by Irene Vallejo

If I had to choose a favourite book among all those read in 2022 (the list is long, believe me), I would not hesitate to choose Irene Vallejo’s Papyrus, the invention of books in the ancient world.

Though an essay, this work holds the entrancing quality of the adventure novels: its ravishing opening paragraphs make us keep our breath away!

Papyrus is a kind of mesmerising experiment where the author (not only an accomplished Classical Philologist, but also a gifted novelist) elaborates, with an elegant prose and erudite knowledge, on the twists and turns of the long epic journey that books underwent throughout history.

Her narrative moves gracefully, combining, like in a memoir, intriguing episodes, together with a few insightful passages of her own life.

Irene offers us multiple surprising and well-researched anecdotes on historical characters, sharply interwoven with contemporary cultural references; not to speak of the philosophical ponderings about the prevalence of the written word in this universe of contradictions.

One cannot help but being amused when learning that, at the height of their love story, Marc Anthony managed to impress Cleopatra by putting at her feet not less than 200,000 books, for her to continue the expansion of the mythical Library of Alexandria!

Being a voracious reader with a fervid imagination since an early age, Vallejo pays homage not only to authors but most emphatically, also to scribes, librarians, translators, and booksellers; and to all those who have enabled us to enjoy the ultimate act of freedom: reading.

Books about books have become already a genre, with plenty of them about the topic. However, in my opinion, maybe only a few can compete with this exceptional work.

Papyrus, the invention of books in the ancient world has achieved its prominent place in the Olympus of the greatest books, and as Mario Vargas Llosa foresees, it will continue to be read when its readers will be in the afterlife.

Irene Vallejo, earned her doctorate in Philology in the Universities of Zaragoza and Florence. She is the author of two novels, four collections of essays, articles, and short fiction; as well as two children’s books. A regular columnist of El País, she has harvested high praise from critics and reviews.

Let’s take her invitation to embark onto this fascinating reading!

Further reading:

Reviewed by Liliana Navarro
Library Assistant

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Papyrus: The invention of books in the ancient world by Irene Vallejo

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