William Dean Minter, Senior Book Conservator in the Digitization and Preservation Department at Pennsylvania State University drew my attention to these images. At first, they reminded me of passages in Annie Tremmel Wilcox’s A Degree of Mastery, in which she describes mending rare books with kozo paper under the hawkeye of the late Bill Anthony. Then, dreamcatchers sprang to mind. What were the images, sounds and thoughts caught in words now missing on these pages, words slipped from the dreamcatching pages? But book artist Esther Kibby, who teaches photography, graphic design and web design at the Art Institute of Dallas in Texas, came up with the most telling association: kintsugi.
Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The mastery of the book restorer is to invisibly repair the book. Our “dreamcatcher” restorer seems to have in mind the kintsugi philosophy and lets the repair draw attention to itself and creates “a new piece”.
In the hands of a book artist, such a technique could generate ironic expressions of biblioclasm: the restored book that is no longer a book? Or echoes of Walter Benjamin’s presumption of and preoccupation with the modern world’s fragmentary nature? Or the pain and sorrow of Al-Mutanabbi Street?
Or a tongue-in-cheek answer to those horrified by the destruction of “the book”?
When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. —Barbara Bloom
Craig Mod modulates on margins here in Medium (18 August 2014).
Text printed on the best paper with no margins or unbalanced margins is vile. Or, if we’re being empathetic, sad. (For no book begins life aspiring to bad margins.) I know that sounds harsh. But a book with poorly set margins is as useful as a hammer with a one inch handle. Sure, you can pound nails, but it ain’t fun. A book with crass margins will never make a reader comfortable. Such a book feels cramped, claustrophobic. It doesn’t draw you in, certainly doesn’t make you want to spend time with the text….
On the other hand, cheap, rough paper with a beautifully set textblock hanging just so on the page makes those in the know, smile (and those who don’t, feel welcome). It says: We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit. Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.
Reiterating his point by analogy, Mod channels the late designer George Nakashima: “in order to produce a fine piece of furniture, the spirit of the tree must live on. You give it a second life … You can make an object that lives forever, if used properly.
For the fundamentals underlying Mod’s scatologically and poetically emphatic truth, you cannot find much better than Alexander Ross Charchar’s essay on the craft and calculations of “page canons” by Villard de Honnecourt (13th century!) , J.A. Van de Graaf, Raúl Rosarivo and Jan Tschichold: “The Secret Law of Page Harmony“. Most delightful is Charchar’s dynamic diagram “The Dance of the Four Canons” illustrating the workings of each page canon:
Copyright 2010, Alexander Ross Charchar.
The Further Reading suggested by Charchar and his commenters is excellent, and I would only add Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking. For those who are irritated with the imposition of the print paradigm on the digital reading experience, there is a useful pointer to applying the page canons to website design that will cause a rethink of that irritation and equally make the imposers think harder as well.
For those who care about the book, what it is evolving into and the role that heart, mind and design still play in that process, read Charchar’s”The Secret Law of Page Harmony” –again and again.
The Repository of Primary Sources has been running since 1995 at the University of Idaho. Under the wing of Terry Abraham, it lists “over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar”, and “[all] links have been tested for correctness and appropriateness”.
So what has this to do with the evolution of the book? Well, in the world of book publishing, whose job has it been to make sure that a book is known about and can be found — not only on publication but after? Marketing, Promotion and Publicity, undoubtedly, but they would be among the first to shout if Editorial or someone had not registered the book’s metadata with Bowker or the equivalent local ISBN registry.
According to Google, there are 129,864,880 books in the entire world (as of 5 August 2010, 8:26AM), but that is a semi-statistical estimate for the modern era drawn from sources such as ISBN registrars and OCLC’s WorldCat. Bookfinder/JustBooks, launched in 1997 by Anirvan Chatterjee, claims that through its network, it searches over 150 million books for sale. With the great hoohah over Hugh Howey’s Amazonian extrapolation, we can safely assume that there are many, many more books out there probably without ISBNs, which after all only came into effect in the 1970s and, even so, now there are vociferous opponents to the ISBN calling it an offline anachronism.
There is no question to beg about the usefulness of metadata. So is there a Terry Abraham and cohort out there to whom publishers and self-publishing authors can turn to deposit metadata whose links will be “tested for correctness and appropriateness”? Of course, that begs the question of whether there should be someone or organizations out there to perform that function. Why not leave it to the power of the Internet or the power of the market? Even if a book goes unnoticed or after a time becomes an “orphan work“, the power has spoken.
Let’s leave the power politics for another bookmark. Whoever performs the function, what exactly is it? Let’s call it the “findability” function. It goes beyond the usual social media marketing of a book or ebook that most publishers assign to Marketing. It goes beyond the usual search engine optimization (SEO), although it is arguably a part of it.
It goes to making the book as locatable an object as it can be, endowing it with “ambient findability.” See Peter Morville’s book of that title and judge for yourself whether “endowing something with ambient findability” misconstrues what he is saying or how the Web works. Nevertheless, …
Superfluous as they are claimed to be becoming, should publishers leave findability to the ISBN registries and librarians (until they become superfluous as well) or to the technorati?
As the book evolves, this “findability” function currently falls between the stools of Commissioning (where the editor discovers the author and pumps him or her not only for the ms but for connections leading to sales/marketing opportunities and further editorial opportunities), Editorial/Production (where the copyeditor, designer and production editor ensure that metadata is assigned and link-checks are run and the work is registered with the Library of Congress), Sales/Marketing (where marketeers scour the author’s questionnaire if it has arrived, create lists of mailing and emailing lists, compile the list of offline and online reviewers/bloggers and design the social media campaign and where a sales account manager with responsiblity for Amazon and other online accounts worries whether IT has included the work in the scheduled ONIX, EDI and customized catalog feeds) and Operations/Finance (where an accountant, analyst or inventory controller assigns the ISBN usually upon receipt of contract approval).
So if you are self-publishing or publishing books/ebooks, who attends to the ambient findability of what you are publishing? As more and more books go online, isn’t this part of the new craft and art of the book?
By the way, I found Morville’s book one rainy Saturday afternoon while shelving books at the local Oxfam bookstore. I bought it instead of shelving it.
A hard question? A trick question? Yes and no. Since 2011, Bernd Kuchenbeiser, the Munich-based book designer, has been attempting an answer. He began by posting entries to a database on Twitter. With the demise of Twitter’s gallery function, Kuchenbeiser migrated the diary-like collection of photos and comments to A Good Book site with help from Simon Zirkunow. Below is a screenshot of part of the 232nd entry.
Until recently, the entries were Kuchenbeiser’s alone. The entries started on a daily basis, but as with many diary projects, the execution flagged. With 349 entries of his own (plus 3 from friends), he is now inviting entries from far and wide. Notice “Submit” in the upper righthand corner of the screenshot. Behind it lie the instructions and requirements for submission. Kuchenbeiser’s own entries are often brief, but his choices and comments are interesting because Kuchenbeiser and his oeuvre are interesting. See Michael Cina’s interview with him in The New Graphic(15 August 2011). For this venture to reward constant revisiting beyond that interest, however, Kuchenbeiser wisely holds potential contributors to the following standard:
Here’s what you need in order to submit a book:
– A short description of your book or the aspect that makes it ‘good’. From 140 characters to a maximum of 560, including spaces.
– The bibliographic details: author, title, year of publication, publisher, designer (if known). A questionnaire is already set up within the email that opens when you click ‘Submit now’.
– One to five photos of your book (at least 1400 pixels wide for landscape format and 1200 pixels high for portrait format).
Think of Pinterest or Flickr with serious feeling and intellectual rigor behind them. Kuchenbeiser’s design work and his own words exude that feeling:
Books have personalities. They can be our companions and friends. A good book doesn’t deserve to languish on a bookshelf; it wants to be opened, read, savoured, displayed, recommended. That’s why this website exists.
This site is like a message in a bottle hoping to be discovered. It will work only if it manages to generate communication.
The London Centre for Book Arts must have picked up the bottle from one of the Thames overswellings last week and placed a notice on its home page about the website. Although Kuchenbeiser does not promote it as such, if A Good Book thrives, it could generate a rich database worth semantic analysis for the book art and book arts community. All materials on A Good Book are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only.
When it comes to acquiring skills and professional training in book publishing, from the early days of the printing press onwards, learning by doing has been book publishing’s order of the day. Consider the following interview exchange between Mac Slocum (Tools of Change) and Theodore Gray (The Elements):
MS: What skills — or people with those skills — must be incorporated into the editorial process to produce something like the iPad/iPhone editions?
TG: Specifically in the case of “The Elements,” the skills required were writing, commercial-style stills photography, Objective-C programming, and a whole, whole lot of Mathematica programming to create the design and layout tool and image processing software we used to create all the media assets that went into the ebook.
Other ebooks might well require different skills. My next one, for example, is going to include a lot more video, so we’re gearing up to produce high-grade stereo 3D video. That’s one of the challenges in producing interesting ebooks: You need a wider range of skills than to produce a conventional print book.
Starting out in book publishing late in the last century, a novice would have consulted Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking and the Chicago Manual of Styleto learn the basics of design, editorial and production. If it were Trade publishing that beckoned, a familiarity with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”) would have been likely.
But as with the acquisition of print publishing skills through learning by commissioning, designing, editing, printing, marketing and selling, the acquisition of the skills required for ebook publishing could use a hand up from appropriate resources. People like Joshua Tallent, Joel Friedlander, Liz Castro, Craig Mod, Matthew Diener are those resources — either by example or authoring — and novices today would do well to start bookmarking their output.
For notes on the availability of formal training and career conditions in publishing, see Thad McIlroy’s The Future of Publishing.