Over the past few years knitting has been much in vogue, and this fall Kate Jacobsen (The Friday Night Knitting Club) has a new novel out – Knit Two   – about those groups that women seem to naturally make that center around camaraderie, food, and a shared activity or craft.


I was paging through “Knit Two” the other day as I considered some titles for a round-up piece, and I started to think about my own ideal group experience. It involved stitching and it involved bitching, but it also involved books!


No, it wasn’t a reading group for crafters, or cooking lessons conducted to the sound of piped-in audiobooks. It was a book-arts class (actually, several of them). My classes were mostly taught by Rosamond Casey of Treehouse Book Arts in Charlottesville, Virginia, but book-arts classes and centers (like Pyramid in DC) can be found in many metropolitan areas of the country.


Book arts isn’t a soothing, repetitive kind of craft. It’s exacting, precise, and demanding. What, you may ask, is book arts? It’s the process of learning how to make bound objects: books, folders, boxes, and the like. It’s not simply bookbinding (although bookbinding falls under the “book arts” rubric); it’s about making some of the materials that are used for bookbinding, as well.


My father, by profession an engineer, was by avocation a cabinetmaker. His “bible” was Fine Woodworking magazine and his mantra was the classic “Measure twice, cut once.” (He was a little OCD and usually measured a dozen times.) Naturally, this irritated me beyond belief when I was a child and just wanted to make a birdhouse, already.


But my dad’s attention to detail is exactly what I needed when I started taking classes in how to make miter cuts and join boards (even if mine were made of fiber and not Honduran mahogany). Unfortunately, while I have a keen aesthetic sense and a good eye for proportion, I have no head whatsoever for numbers. Ros would say something like “You’ll need three-and-a-half times the paper binding for the outer edge as you did for the front cover, so just calculate that using your thumb…” and I’d be completely lost.


One thing that’s great about precision is what it allows you to accomplish. As my father knew, if you make cuts properly, your mortise-and-tenon joins will hold. As Ros knew, if you learned to line up a set of signatures (stacked and folded sheets of paper) properly and drill holes through them, you’ll be able to quickly and neatly whipstitch the bunch into a notebook. You can bitch about having to fuss and cajole those pages into line, but if you don’t take care, you won’t be able to stitch it all together.


I think that this is one of the things that appeals to many bibliophiles most about “real” books – the time and craft that technically go into them. I’m not going to launch into a long discussion here of how books are now manufactured and what is wrong with any or all of that manufacturing process.


Instead, I’m going to ask you: What’s your favorite part of a paper, bound, book? Is it the smell? The cover? The page edges? The end papers?

0 Kudos
by KFZuzulo on ‎09-12-2009 06:59 PM

Great question. Even just the phrase "stacked and folded sheets of paper" elicits the tactile memory of simply holding a book--any bound book-- in my hands.  My favorite part of a book is the spine.  As with the human body, the spine seems to be the central nervous system of a physical book.  I enjoy pinching the spine--whether broad or narrow--between my fingers.  I can imagine the words and images conveyed inside; an entirely new realm in the space of an inch or two.  I usually run my thumb down the spine before I crack open the book and begin to read, like a literary chiropractor.  Though, if it's a really good book, I'm usually the one who gets 'adjusted.'

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