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About Me

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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The perfect baby gift

When three of my nieces and nephews were going to have children very close together we had to decide what to give them as a baby gifts.  To me the key phrase in that sentence is "baby gift."  A gift for the baby.  As opposed to a gift for the new parents.  It always seemed to me that giving baby clothes was a gift for the parents, which is fine - there's nothing wrong with giving gifts to new parents, but then call it a parent gift, not a baby gift.

My idea, and Diane agreed, was to give each child a drop spine box like this one, with their name on the cover:

Inside we filled it:

In each box was a New York Times and a Seattle Times, from their birthday, along with eight or so magazines that were on the news stands when the child was born.  We picked magazines which would cover culture, fashion, sports, computers, technology, news, music and others we thought would be of interest.  I think Diane put an architecture magazine in one of them!  We tried to think of magazines that would evidence the greatest change over the next fifty, or hundred, years.

What I particularly like about it is this:  it's kind of worthless now, it's just a bunch of magazines.  But in thirty years it'll start being kind of interesting.  In fifty years it'll be pretty cool, and in a hundred years it'll be amazing.

At least we hope!

To make the box I made a drop spine box the size of the newspapers and then infilled the lower part of it so that the magazines wouldn't jostle around too much.  And that's the important thing here, the box can't allow the movement of the magazines or newspapers.  And it needs to be made of proper, acid-free and durable, materials.  You can see the structure in these pictures, and in the picture above:

On the inside of  the other tray is a letter from Diane and myself explaining why we did this.  Diane wrote it, so it is prose that reads as poetry.  

What struck me after we had done a couple of these (this is the third one) is that even having a newspaper will be interesting in a few decades.  News of the Picayune going to three days a week is pretty hard to hear for someone like me who loves newspapers. Especially Sunday newspapers.  You also have to wonder how long printed magazines will last as well.

I often get asked what I think of Kindles and Nooks, with the expectation of I'll start screaming or yelling about how they are the end of civilization and decency.  But really, the main thing I think we lose with electronic books is the loss of cultural history.  You won't be able to pass down grandma's Kindle in the same way you can save her cookbook.  And the stains on the pages of the cookbook, even more than the words on the page, say a lot about grandma, what she liked to cook, and even how careful of a cook she was!  Same for Bibles, or favorite children's books.

Sometime you should leaf through the pages of Copernicus' books, and see all his marginalia.  Reading his notes means you can see his thoughts as he read a section of the text.  His unguarded thoughts.  Sure todays' Copernicus can make notes on his or her Kindles, but you won't be able to read anything off a fifty year old model.

Maybe that's why I like this gift so much.  It's saving a bit of culture in a way that will allow it to be experienced a century from now.  In that way, it's perhaps more of a gift to Phoebe's grandchildren than it is for her.

Of course part of the key to it, I suppose, will be to keep it out of their hands until they are old enough to  understand what it is.  And hope they find it interesting enough to take care of and save.  We'll see...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Trofast is Swedish for happiness!

I started binding at home just after I graduated from North Bennet Street School in 1992 and moved back to Seattle for a job at the University of Washington.  Twenty years ago today!

I started off with my bench, Kutrimmer, Kwikprint, combination press, and small book press crammed into my bedroom where I began to work through the curriculum from NBSS.  I wanted to do it all again just be sure I understood what I had been taught.  It was an incredibly helpful and productive time.

But I also began to get calls for book repair which was both a good way to continue to learn and grow but it also gave me the financial means to buy more tools and equipment.

One problem was that I needed a way to store all the pieces and parts of books I was working on.  Working in such a small space (the next year I moved to another apartment in that building which gave me a whole bedroom to use as a bindery!  What luxury!) made that an important issue.  Having no place to put things aside, or even much storage space at all, my only choice was to be very careful.

When I would pick up new eyeglasses I was drool a bit over the trays that the glasses and paperwork were stored in. The problem was that they were too small for books.

One day I was wandering around IKEA and I heard choirs singing and rays of sun pouring through windows.  Then I turned the corner to see why and saw these:

They are called Trofast and are a toy storage system.  You know, to store toys in!  They were the perfect size for books.  Not every book, of course, but 96.23% of books.  Maybe a bit more.

When I get a job I put the name of the client outside the box using blue tape.  I think it has to be blue tape, I tried brown and they caught fire.  (If you don't know that's a joke you probably should be reading something else.)  Then I put the book and the paperwork for the  project inside.  Then it gets slid into the rack.  There is a top to keep dust out, which is very helpful working in the desert.

When I'm working on that book the box comes out onto the bench and when I take it apart I put the pieces inside (sometimes inside an envelope if they're very small).  I've found how necessary that is, because sometimes clients will come into the bindery and not realize that little piece of book is extremely important and suddenly it gets brushed onto the floor, or pushed aside, or other bad things.

Fortunately I've never lost significant parts of book, but this makes it much easier to keep that  up.  They come in several colors and depths, but I've stuck with white because I'm boring.  Or traditional.  Well, boring.

I have a second rack for books I've finished and are waiting to be sent off or picked up.

Like all good things it makes life simpler and better.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If I wanted exercise I'd just lift weights

I've been reading a paperback book, which I really like.  Well, I like the content anyway.

The problem is that the book doesn't open very easily, so after reading for several minutes my arms start getting tired and I put the book down.  Here is a picture of how the book opens on its own:

It's probably very clear to everyone that books should open more easily than that.  In fact they should just lay flat, not stay rigid and upright like this one does.  Why does this book not open?  

The paper, mainly.  Not to get too technical but the grain of the paper is going in the wrong direction so it doesn't drape.  In addition the gutter margin is too small, so it really has to be forced open to read the whole page.  Here's the gutter margin, when I'm reading the book my inclination isn't to force it open this wide so I end up twisting the book to real all the lines.

To take this picture I put a three pound weight on it so it would open enough.

Some might say it doesn't function correctly because it's an adhesive binding, but that's not really true.  I've read adhesive bindings recently that were not the hurculean struggle this one is.  Like any binding, the proper materials and structure are necessary for a happy book reading experience.

The source of this is no doubt due to people running publishing houses who know nothing about books.  They're making widgets in the shape of a book, and as long as they look like a book then they are happy.  It's only the readers who end up being unhappy.

And all I can think about this is to wonder if Nooks are winning over books because physical books are such crap these days.  Imagine if the competition for transportation was between a Yugo and something new and functional.  Not quite the same fight as between a Mercedes and the next new thing.

Yes, this book is a Yugo as are most mass produced books these days.

Here his how a book should open.  Easier to do on a sewn binding like this, but any book can be made to open properly.  The real issue is that you have to have a bit of knowledge and a bit of care, along with a bit of respect for the reader.

The one good thing about this book is that if I keep reading it (and I will) eventually my forearms are going to look like this:

Maybe that's what the publisher is going for, after all.