Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Who came up with the term "book worm", anyway? It's funny to think that it must have started as a derogatory term: denigrating the quiet-types that preferred to bury their heads between the starchy pages of a book rather than fraternizing or flitting easily between social engagements. We do, after all, often refer to those callous extroverts as "Social Butterflies" (I am definitely an extrovert so I feel I can make fun). Despite it's disparaging etymology, somehow the nerds (hey, that's me too) have managed to reclaim and rejoice in being a "Book Worm" with prideful gusto over recent decades.
I mean, even if we don't think of ourselves as a book worm the average person reads a lot more than they think. Even if our bookshelves are lined with half-started novels that gather dust and taunt us as we sit nearby scrolling mindlessly through social media banter, you're still reading this right now - HA! However, the majority of the reading we do these days is probably mediated by some kind of screen, which has everything to do with how we encounter the text. When we interact with a technological device, it is very rarely through touch but primarily through sight. Over the last 18 months of pandemic life, I think we've grown increasingly placated by using this ocular sense of ours at the expense of all of others. We visit online stores we used to browse in person, reliant on descriptions and photographs of models that look nothing like us to tell us if that shirt will fit, or this product is suitable for washing by hand. Even when we read the news on the internet, we read one article that catches our attention - then we're likely carried off by a flurry of distractions that come into view: email sign-ups, advertisements, cat videos, a frantic text message bubble from our mother. Okay what am I on about here? As you might guess, I am more than a little nostalgic and passionate about the interactive, material, visceral experience of a letterform, a word, a sentence, a poem, when it is printed on a page. A page of paper that we can fold and put into our pocket, pass to our crush, forget on the subway for some curious stranger to discover. The real ephemera of our lives is so secret now, isn't it? It's password protected, touch-id enabled, through a screen it is impossible to experience text in that tangible way. Despite this propensity to touch ALL THE THINGS, (much to the chagrin of some shop-owners and generally frowned upon in pandemic life/artistic exhibitions) I will admit that I once bought an e-reader second hand. I thought I had better give it a chance. It has since moved house and travelled the world with me over the years, and I don't think in all that time has it ever had a full battery, let alone had any of its PDFs read. This e-reader has no particular smell, no dog-eared pages, no marginalia. The single "page" is slick and dull-grey, the letterforms scattered there are made of tiny digital blips that reform and contort within their limited 4"x 6" dimensions. As quickly as the text morphs into the next paragraph, I have forgotten its meaning. Because part of reading books comes from feeling them –from experiencing the motion of our hands and arms and fingers– touching is believing, in this case. A book is a tiny sculpture we orient our bodies toward as well as our minds, turning it over in our hands. To know a book is to interact with it, feeling the physical differences between volumes and covers, appreciating the spine and weight of a book on your lap and then cursing it when your knapsack –full of letters – slows you down on your hurried commute.
As a letterpress printer, I feel lucky to deal with the physical forms of metal and wood type almost daily. I choose papers and inks that will give the reader –the toucher, the user– a sense of time, place and purpose when handling the printed page. I am also a book-artist who thinks a lot about our relationship to books, printed matter, and the impression on us that comes from feeling the impression of a print on paper. When I teach printmaking or book binding, part of what I try to get across is not just the skills and techniques, but the purpose behind each mark, stitch, and fold in the construction and design of a book's form. I have been very lucky to meet many printmakers/book artists and see many amazing artists' books in person while I was in University through rare book library visits, and at art exhibitions. I encourage you to check out some of the resources and links concerning book-arts below, visit your local "rare book library" (often found within universities, perhaps in their subterranean depths) . Interested in making your own books? There are plenty of book binders out there, and we also offer courses in binding, letterpress and printmaking techniques, which you can check out here. Penrose Press - Brianna Tosswill runs Penrose Press, a small press that publishes limited edition artists' books in collaboration with other artists and writers in Canada. Alisa Golden is the author of "Making Handmade Books: 100+ Binding, Structures and Forms" and also has a great blog about many book structures Phoebe Todd-Parrish (that's me!) Artists' Books Coach House Books has an interesting publishing history and is still located in Toronto, in an alleyway off of Bloor street, in an old coach house. I once visited and it is truly amazing inside.
Art Metropole distributes and catalogs Artists' books and multiples, as well as zines and comics and is located in Toronto The Centre for Book Arts is another place to take classes, both online and in-person. They promote the book arts through their exhibitions and programming. Printed Matter: non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of publications made by artists. Required reading: Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. 2nd ed. New York City: Granary Books, 2004. Other books I love about making books are Keith Smith's books on non-adhesive (aka sewn) bindings, and Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions From A Master Craftsman by Kojiro Ikegami Are there other books on book binding or resources you know of that others might find useful! I'd love to hear about them, please comment below :)