I like orange juice. I really like orange juice. But I sure don’t make a habit of learning about the properties of citric acid and optimal growth conditions for Tropicana Florida oranges. And I’m cool with that.
But I can’t apply the same to books. Not the ignorance about the production of such an item, but my complacency about it. I’m not talking about the words – I’m talking about the pulp. The sawn, milled, pulped, compressed, printed pages glued between embossed cardboard. That, my friends, is as far as I know about the physical shell protecting the tales I love.
Which is why I’m a reader, but not a bibliophile. See, I throw my old books on the ground. I bend their pages. I don’t dog-ear them (except, very occasionally, for the really crappy ARC when I need to remember a particularly excruciating turn of phrase), but I stretch the spines. And new books? I treat them carefully, but I don’t bend over backwards to keep them pristine. Just doesn’t happen.
In other words, the content matters, not the exterior. If I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities, I don’t actually care whether it’s the $4.99 Everyman Edition or the 1858 first book form issue currently going for $25,000. Yeah, I know it’s history in your hands, but Sydney Carton will still haunt me either way. So griping about clinches and heaving bosoms aside, I’m really happy reading a book in most forms, beneath any exterior.
And I’ve found that my attitude affects my reading preferences. Booksellers are okay – to various degrees of enthusiasm, I read and enjoyed Anne Mallory’s Seven Secrets of Seduction, Carlos Ruiz-Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind (I don’t know anyone who didn’t), and Pam Rosenthal’s The Bookseller’s Daughter.
But get into the nitty-gritty of bookmaking, and my eyes start to glaze over. For the longest time I felt like such a pleb. You call yourself a book lover? Eh? Right, so what’s with all those cheapo mass markets littering your bookcases? And how can you not care that it’s a gilt-lettered spine, yellow end-papered, red clothbound, blind-stamped 1858 first book form issue?? Well, I more or less stopped trying. It’s not my thing. I got over it. And I never finished Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas, two books which I remember featuring lots of technical book descriptions. I wanted to. But I never have.
Recently however, the particulars of bookbinding have been popping up in my mind. I’m going back to school in four days, and for the first time in ages I’ll need a proper agenda, not just a wall calendar and scrap paper stapled together. But I looked at the prices, and I saw the reams of paper at home, and I thought, dude, I can do better than spend $15 on something I’ll shove in a corner in 12 months.
So following my recent DIY fad, I’ve decided to make my own agenda. I already did it semi-recently with grotty paper and fraying thread, but that format isn’t durable or suitable for two years of grad school. (Hell no.) I’ve looked into different paper binding methods (stapling, folding, gluing, sewing), and looked at cover material (Cloth? Cardboard? Cardstock? All three?), and bounced ideas off of friends (“Okay, I’ll shell out the $15 and buy the frickin’ thing for you”). But the fact is, binding together a collection of paper that is light, durable, attractive, and usable is hard. No, actually, it’s easy to do it half-assed, but doing it well? As with most things in life: Super, mega, ultra hard.
Which kind of brings me full circle. I’m still not reading up about the niceties of Tropicana production. I’m probably not going to join the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild. And my agenda currently looks like something the rat regurgitated. But hey – it’s a start.
Are you a reader, bibliophile, or both? Can you think of any other bibliophile books? And have you ever made your own book?
– Jean AAR