I was recently given an Amazon Kindle and the e-reader has since become essential bedtime reading. I still prefer, and buy, traditional books for the usual reasons—the look, feel and smell of paper, the tactile pleasure of turning a page, the gratification in possessing beautifully produced books as opposed to a virtual bag of bytes—but limited living space has tampered the enthusiasm of this would-be bibliophile. If we define a book as a portable medium of written language, then the first books in ancient China were oracle bones and shells of the Shang dynasty (circa 1600-1046BC), some of which were strung together. The next stage in the evolution of Chinese books was the scroll, which was the main repository of written texts for the next two millennia until the 7th century, after printing was invented. The first scrolls consisted of bamboo or wooden slips. Chinese characters, read from top to bottom, and then right to left until the 20th century, were written on narrow slips of equal dimensions. Multiple slips that made up a book were placed side by side and strung together along the top and bottom. These books were rolled up for easy storage, and to read them, one would unroll them on a desk or the floor. Whole at last, mutilated Chinese scroll to go on display Words were also written on silk scrolls, however, given the prohibitive costs of silk these were the preserve of the wealthy. In AD105, Cai Lun, a eunuch courtier of the Eastern Han dynasty, developed the process to produce cheap, high quality paper. While this led to an increase in the production of books, still in the form of scrolls, they had to be copied by hand. The Northern and Southern dynasties period (AD420-589) saw the development of the “folded sutra” book of thick paper folded into a concertina. This was a popular form for hand copied Buddhist scriptures, but the paper scroll was the mainstay for the reading population. Book printing appeared in China in the early years of the Tang dynasty (AD618-907) but it wasn’t until the Song period (AD960-1279), with the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng around 1040, that the publishing industry flourished. It was also during this period of technological advances and affluence in China that reading materials changed from scrolls to a form resembling the modern book. The manufacturing process of the most popular types of printed books in the next few centuries was similar to modern bookbinding. Pages of printed paper were cut into identical sizes and glued to the book cover at the spine. A book from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) contains a formula for the glue used in bookbinding, which had adhesive, preservative and aromatic properties, demonstrating the sophistication of book production in China. By the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), “string-bound books” had become the most popular type of binding. The pages of a book, together with its front and back covers, were tightly sewn together with a string and secured with a knot. String-bound books, in particular beautifully produced editions of Chinese classical texts, have become popular in recent years, and I have a few boxed sets on my bookshelves. Since the new year, I have had two books on my nightstand. There’s a “real” book to which I turn for improving my intellect and edifying my spirit. And then there’s my new e-book download, a guilty reading pleasure of mine: horror novels that lull me to sleep.