Sunday, September 20, 2009

Too Fast

Deborah Windsor, the Executive Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, wrote a short article in the Union’s magazine, “Write,” about the difficulties of adapting to the new technologies. She said she likes the old way of doing things, and she admitted that’s a problem. I’m with her - I still like paper and the old ways of putting a book together. At the same time, I see the huge advantage technology has brought us. For myself, I would like technology to slow down.(But don't take away my computer!)

Around the same time I read Deborah’s little article, I heard a feature on CBC about the rapidity of developments in the field of technology. In the past, there was a greater time lapse between major inventions. Now, time between the invention of each piece of technology is much shorter. I’m curious how this pace of change will affect the human race over the long haul.

Sometimes when I am flying, I think that human beings weren’t “made” to move this quickly, and weren’t meant to be hundreds of feet off the ground. I’m more earth-bound than most, perhaps. It’s not for nothing that earth day and my birthday are the same date!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Putting a Book Together

16 September, 2009

I spent yesterday afternoon at Cormorant Books working with the production manager, Barry Jowett on the placement of images for "Perfect Red," my biography on Paraskeva Clark. Because of budgetary constraints, the photos and paintings will be in three sixteen-page signatures in the book, which means the images will not appear with related text, but they will be gathered into sections (signatures) inserted at certain places in the book. Placing images in signatures instead of scattering them throughout the text costs as much as $15 per book more to produce because heavier paper must be used throughout, not just on pages where images appear. Heavier paper is used for the signatures and lighter, less expensive paper is used in the rest of the book. Would you pay $15 more for "Perfect Red" to avoid having to flip back to another part of the book to look at a painting about which you are reading? I doubt it, but I wish you would.

A book on art and artists is so much more satisfying, more beautiful and so much more unified when the paintings and photos appear within the text where they belong.

I understand that publishers must stay within their budgets to keep down the prices on books or they won’t sell, but I can’t avoid feeling frustrated with yesterday's process. The three sixteen-page signatures, a total of forty-eight pages, do not give us enough space for all the paintings and photos that must be included in the book. I came away desperately wanting another signature for the rest of the paintings, but I am not sure it will be possible to add another signature because of the additional cost. If not, Barry and I will have to go back through the whole process again to place the images, and many will have to be much smaller. I don’t like these compromises.

All this makes me feel like railing against the values in our culture: art, which feeds the spirit, is not seen as an essential part of our lives so artists and writers constantly are stymied in the process of giving what is their to give to society. The dominant attitude in our consumer culture is that if something isn’t cheap, well, it should be cheaper. What does this generalization have to do with my work yesterday? Think about it and let me know.

Monday, September 7, 2009

On the Credit River in the energetic little town of Erin, Ontario sits the Porcupine’s Quill, an equally energetic press where Elke and Tim Inkster live and work. These two people, recipients of the Order of Canada on Canada Day 2008, spend long hours typesetting, and printing and binding the books they publish. (An aside here: how does it happen that someone with the name of “Inkster” becomes a publisher who prints books?)

When I visited the Inksters last week with the purpose of checking over my Joyce Wieland: Writings and Drawings 1952-1971, which they are publishing later this year (date not yet set), Tim gave me a tour. I was astounded how tidy the whole establishment is. In my many years as a freelance book editor, I’ve been in and out of publishing houses countless times and I cannot remember any publishing house this tidy. In fact, what I remember is general chaos in many offices. Not Porcupine’s Quill! When I commented on this to Tim and Elke, they told me that when you are small everything must have its place.

Perhaps PQ is small, but its award-winning history is admirable, as is its commitment to careful production of its books. The books are printed on a Heidelberg Press that is nearly forty years old, using only high-grade paper. The Inksters put the books together with sewn bindings - now rarely used in publishing fiction - as opposed to glueing, which is not nearly as durable. They have a 1907 model Smyth national book sewing machine that appears to be in great shape, much older than it looks.

That the proprietors of Porcupine’s Quill publish books because they love them is obvious. So today I write in praise of publishers who love books.