The Literature of Bookbinding

Today’s post comes out of some thoughts I had after “reading” a book with no binding at all: an audiobook version of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks while I work and really enjoying it. (By the way, did you know that many public libraries offer free downloadable material through their websites? ‘Tis available 24/7 as long as you’re square with your library– that is, you have a library card and don’t have excessive fines.  People are often surprised when I tell them that libraries offer these kinds of services. Actually, my librarian friends are some of the more tech-savvy people I know! Another resource for free downloadable audiobooks is the Internet Archive.)

Anyway, there is a scene early in Flow My Tears when the main character visits Cathy, a young woman whose function in life is to falsify ID cards, and while he’s in her workshop, sees what he takes to be a page from a medieval illuminated manuscript on her wall. Actually, it is something Cathy copied herself– in addition to copying official documents, Cathy is skilled at calligraphy and illumination with such a heightened sense of paper and ink that (by her own admission) her piece would “fool a museum”.

The placement of her character in this alternate-reality novel of flying cars, ultrasurveillance of private citizens, and a society at least an arm’s length from itself was startling to me. Being the kind of person I am, it made me wonder a moment that a lot of the authors I really like include references to fine books, calligraphy and printing.

Another author I love who often includes references to fine books is Joe Frank. Most of his shows that have aired on the local public radio station lately have had some mention of his love of antiquarian books, and old books occasionally figure into his plot lines also! It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find free Joe Frank content on the web, so many people don’t know about him, but you can find him at http://www.joefrank.com.

Studs Terkel included an interview with a bookbinder in his book Working. I just found out, too, that he spoke at the Guild of Book Workers conference in Chicago in 1998. (-sigh- Why wasn’t I there??) But I can still read and re-read the entry in Working, which in many ways still accurately describes the life of a freelance/self-employed bookbinder.

Another work of fiction pertaining to bookbinding is The Journal of Dora Damage. A bit rough around its proper Victorian edges, this is a rambling tale of a woman whose husband is a bookbinder and her consequent involvement in the trade, which becomes rather significant through the course of the book.

Pretty often these days I run into people who are interested in what I do for a living, and are fascinated that someone is still doing what I do. Occasionally I get bogged down by how tedius bookbinding can be: lots of manual labor and sore joints, administrative tasks that take me away from the bench, etc. Of course, I have always maintained that bookbinding shall be my profession, not a hobby or pastime, and I know that’s just the nature of work. It is nice, though, to read stories in which bookbinding and related crafts capture an author’s imagination. I am drawn in again to the exciting aspect of what I do and once more begin anew.

Any bookbinding literature you’d like to share? Please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments area.

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3 Comments

Filed under Around, About, and Through

3 responses to “The Literature of Bookbinding

  1. There’s a bookbinder in an episode of Secret Agent/Danger Man, “Don’t Nail Him Yet”. TV, not literature, but a great show nonetheless.

  2. I also love Joe Frank! I used to listen to his show sunday nights on WNYC here in NYC, glad for the free downloads you linked to on his site.

    • Ha, that’s amazing. It was another bookbinder (Stacie Dolin) who turned me on to Joe Frank! Now I’ll have to go through the old shows and find the episodes in which he talks with such reverence about finely-bound books.

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