If you were told to make a book, what would you imagine? Most people would probably think of the interior, all the words marching from page to page in tidy little rows. Typing. Editing. Printing. But what about the book as an object, not merely as content to be written and edited and formatted? What about the cover and spine? “We should keep in mind that no text exists outside of the physical support that offers it for reading,” say Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier in A History of Reading in the West (quoted in The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk).
On Wednesday, November 20, up the creaking staircases and winding hallways to Placid 424, the ever elusive English classroom, our Small Press Publishing class and several student volunteers from around campus united to bind together three-hundred copies of Why Poetry, by Joe O’Connor. We set up stations: one group worked on creasing the printed interior; the next ensured all pages were in their proper order and secured them with binder clips, then sent them to be hole-punched for those of us saddle-stitching them together. Although it was efficient, every endeavor has its trials, and our main opponent came in the form of binder clips…they left permanent marks on the fresh white pages! The day was saved by a clever use of post-it notes under each clip to protect the paper, but it cost our group over ten copies of our precious chapbook.
That wasn’t all that went amiss: we soon discovered that some of the holes had not been punched directly in the spine, but to the side of it, making the spine crooked, or the binding uneven. This threw off the stitching, which also proved a problem: the single-strand cord constantly snapped when we tried to close the covers! We resolved the issue by doubling it.
The experience of working together on such a tedious and impossible-sounding project, with a fast deadline, provided a somewhat tense, but also exciting atmosphere as we rose from each trial and tried again. I enjoyed great conversations with my peers and believe I got to know several of my classmates better for this time together, which lent itself (surprisingly) more to conversation than some of our other excursions. Perhaps more importantly, it emphasized a point that I believe I have made in nearly ever blog post this semester: the importance of the tangible. A book, as Borsuk would agree, is as much an object as the content itself, an object that we pick up, sniff, carry with us, and sometimes even destroy. Putting one together through the full process of designing the interior, screen-printing the covers, and sewing both to create a unified whole taught me just how much I don’t know about the effort involved in bringing a work of fiction from one’s imagination to the bookstore shelf.
Amaranth Borsuk. The Book. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Press, 2018. Page 29.