2 November 08

Cooking, Carpentry, and Sewing

Book Eight That’s how one of my classmates described the activities in the Bookbinding III class I took this weekend at the San Francisco Center for the Book. This time we only produced one book, but this was a large and complicated one, with 20 signatures, sewn endbands, and a split-board binding. The cooking bit was learning how to make wheat paste glue, for the carpentry we had to do lots of precise cuts with the board shear and guillotine, and the sewing of course was the signatures and the endbands, the latter being very finicky and difficult. I’ve now completed the introductory bookbinding series at SFCB so it’s time to start applying these skills. It would be nice to produce something other than blank books, so my next project might be to typeset some text from Project Gutenberg, print it up on a laser printer, and bind it as my very own book design. Imposition problems here we come.

Posted by at 09:48 PM in Design Arts | Link | Comment [1]

22 September 08


Pile of books We’re starting to accumulate a small pile of books we’ve bound. I am quite enjoying the paper in the “Ideal Sketchbook” — Kelly Classic — for pen and ink. I think this may become my main bird sketchbook.

Numenius has been dazzling me with his new binding skills. Headbands and everything. I have no idea where this is leading but we’re both enjoying it. It’s companionable and that’s unusual for what is often a solitary activity.

Our trip to Art Ellis in Sacramento and lunch at Tapa the World (they catered Chris and Karen’s wedding — we were impressed then; we were impressed again on Saturday) yielded the following conversation at the next table:

“Mauritania. Sand. Lots of sand.”

“Do you get robbed there?”

“No, I got mugged in Rio. Machete.”

“I know a guy who got mugged in Rio by machete.”

“Really? Who?”


“Christian left Rio a few hours before I got mugged on the beach by machete.”

“You’re kidding! You mean he took your story?”

Posted by at 08:47 PM in Books and Language | Link | Comment [2]

19 September 08

Left Unsaid

Before my mother moved back east a couple of summers ago, she handed me bags and bags of things she wasn’t taking with her but didn’t want to throw away. These included improbable numbers of bottles of moisturizing lotion; they also included all my letters home — since I first went to boarding school in 1973.

I know they must have made us write home weekly, but I was still shocked by the sheer number of them, and by their mostly uniform vacuousness, which continued on into university and beyond. They’re painful to read and mostly I haven’t. But they lurk…

I finished Geraldine Brooks’s March last night, a novel that starts out with the Little Women father writing home. It has been a horrific day, a day in which he, a green army chaplain, has tried (and failed) to save a wounded man from drowning as they retreated in terror from a confederate counterattack. He is wracked with pain and cold and shame and fear and guilt yet none of this makes it onto the page: he writes about the cooking fires around him and the beauty of the sky. The truth of that day — and many other terrible truths about many other days, truths that likewise never made it onto the pages that are sent with love and remorse about the deception — the truth of that day finally emerges as Marmee visits her “very ill” husband in hospital and tries to save him from his demons. She is transformed in this novel from a milquetoast goody-two-shoes into a raging spitfire with a terrible temper (and how we love it: tell it like it is, Marmee), and she feels anger and betrayal at the lies that have been flung her way. Yet when she tries to write home to her daughters, she is faced with the same dilemma: tell the truth and cause pain and anguish, or spare them from it and lie. And then live with the consequences of your lies.

Choices, these are. At the time, it doesn’t seem so momentous. “I’ve started smoking” is a truth I felt able to divulge in a letter home, difficult though it was, leading to a reminder my grandfather had died of emphysema; “I lost my virginity in the darkroom on Saturday” is one I left out. It reveals to me, again, how difficult parenting must be: choosing between honesty and wanting to protect your young. Of course my own omissions can be explained in terms of teenage rebellion, but looking through these letters, there’s more.

If I had been encouraged, or decided on my own, to share with my parents the struggles I was facing — wanting to fit in, wanting to be “cool,” feeling the pressure (of course this would have involved acknowledging it, which was far from the reality) — it may have been possible to write the letters with the integrity that, in hindsight, I wish I’d had. And it’s possible I might have made different choices, guided by parental wisdom and love and, perhaps, honesty.

My grandfather — the one who died of emphysema — was a man for whom lying was close to a crime; it was certainly a sin. He raised my mother and uncle to share this view. Yet, looking through his own letters home during World War I, I see the same reticence to reveal the truth in letters in as Mr. March’s. “I’ve had the grippe but some poor fellows have it much worse” is the only mention I’ve found in any correspondence anywhere from family members that touches on the great flu pandemic of 1918. It is left to my imagination to fathom what he was really seeing, because in tents in western France with thousands of soldiers, many of them ill and dying, it can’t have been something you’d want to see, ever.

Much has been written on the impossibility of language to convey some things so horrific most of us would rather they remain unsaid. This is the project of many films about the holocaust: say the unsayable, because it is the truth, speak it even though you don’t find the words. Truth becomes a driving imperative. We recognize it when we see it — if we’re lucky.

At a time when most of us expect lies of all our leaders, even those at the highest level, when outright untruth or misremembering or failure to remember or I’ll take the fifth or other permutations of culturally sanctioned lying from the top down, lying that has led to, for example, people still dying in Iraq — now is the time to take baby steps to learn how to tell the truth again. It can start with the innocuous things. I didn’t, in fact, make my bed this morning. I got a less than stellar performance review. I made some stupid mistakes in the stock market. We can then progress to “I did have sex with that woman” and “we knew all along there were no weapons of mass destruction.” From there, perhaps, when there are real consequences inherent in the truth we tell, we might make wiser decisions in the first place…

Posted by at 07:05 AM in Books and Language | Link | Comment [11]

15 September 08

Three Novels That Touch on, or Skirt, War

My sister sent me, as a birthday present, a new novel by Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. I had read Year of Wonders a while ago and loved her heroine who survives the plague and loss of her family and everyone she knew to end up in a place of unlikely redemption. My sister D. thought I’d like this new one because bookbinding and calligraphy and Spanish history are all part of the plot. She was right; the sequences of the book’s violent journey through history and Europe bracket each other like a book of hours, plus there’s a great gutsy Aussie heroine.

Some Spanish friends recently gave me a copy of Los Soldados de Salamina by Javier Cercas, which apparently was a bestseller in Spain in 2001 but which I’d never heard of. It recreates the story of a falangist (Spanish fascist) writer who faces, but improbably survives, a firing squad at the end of the Spanish Civil War and whose story is recreated by a journalist with writer’s block — the metaphors are as unsubtle as the people whose story is told — and to whom not all the facts are available. (Think Rashomon under Franco.) It was fun to read a novel in Spanish again, something I should try more often; if I read El Pais on Fridays I can start to make a list of thing that look interesting to me.

Finally, well back into the Brooks mode, I’m reading March, which is a fictional retelling of the absent father from Alcott’s Little Women, and which draws heavily on Bronson Alcott’s diaries and correspondence. This book is not about the American Civil War but the war is the backdrop.

Trying not to be too violent in my reading, here, but maybe there’s a lesson in all this…

Posted by at 07:54 PM in Books and Language | Link | Comment [3]

15 August 08

Printer's Companion

Diego is not the first cat to develop an interest in the printing arts. The special collections librarian Donald Kerr at the University of Otago discovered on page 250 of the library’s copy of Astesanus de Asts Summa de casibus conscientiae, an extremely rare work from 1472 or 1473 printed in Strassburg by Johann Mentelin, three cat paw prints in ink.

Kerr noted that Mentelin had been described as “a careless printer”, so perhaps this was a good example. He checked with several other libraries holding copies of the work to see if there were any other cat paw prints to be found, but no such luck. The librarian at the State Library of Berlin noted however on their copy that there was bad damage on the initial and final leaves from rodent nibblings, which could explain why Mentelin kept a cat around the print house.

(From PhiloBiblos.)

Posted by at 09:41 PM in Cats | Link | Comment [2]

20 June 08

You Say Aluminium...

One of the hardest things I find to say, even though I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years, is “alOOminum.” Skedule and prohject don’t seem to pose the same problems, but aloominum’s just something I can’t get to come out of my mouth (a bit like stOOpid unless I’m being arch or or FRITillary unless I’m trying to illustrate how it’s possible to merge four syllables into one). I got chastised again the other day for saying aluminium “wrong” and retorted that we (we in this case meaning Brits, though this like so much else in my identity shifts according to the winds, the wicket or diamond, or the company) had the word first, so how could it be wrong?

But since I’m given to sounding authoritative without the slightest reason to, and having resolved to have more reason to, I decided to look it up.

Seems like there’s no clear cut answer either way, which doesn’t resolve anything but is certainly interesting. In fact it could form the basis for a sociolinguist’s PhD (or at least a paper). Pronunciation of scientific elements: hypercorrection for the latinate, or hypercorrection against it?

Posted by at 10:17 PM in Books and Language | Link | Comment [6]

4 June 08

Vetinari Ascendant

We’ve reported on how Barack Obama bears more than a passing resemblance to Lord Vetinari. This scene in the Senate today could have easily been written by Terry Pratchett, especially the bit about smiling up at the press at the end.

Posted by at 11:51 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [1]

26 March 08

Tired: Let Me Count the Ways (Then Name Them)

Nicole of Turning Leaves just posted about how we lack words for states of tiredness.

Not words for “tired” — we have plenty of those. She wants words to describe these feelings:

There is the wonderful fatigue of relief. There is the foul mood of not having slept at all, or worse, having slept tiny dribs and drabs while in an uncomfortable position. There is the nervy sensation of having had a chance to really sleep, but not being able to.

There are several I’d add: the irritable fatigue of trying to get some sleep in a hospital but being continually woken by officious nursing staff taking readings and changing drips at all hours of the night (and day). The sweet, salty but aching fatigue of a long bike ride (or hike or run or aerobics class) and the sweet, salty but utterly different aching of a day spent digging in the garden. The honey-fatigue of deep relaxation, such as that following a massage. The monotonous and monochrome fatigue of depression. The fatigue of having really been under sniper fire, instead of just misspeaking about it, and not just for a brief trip to an airport tarmac but for days, weeks, or even years, the miracle of adrenaline finally giving out with disastrous consequences. The long slow blank fatigue of hunger. The deep fatigue following energetic sex.

Any ideas for words for any of these states of being?

Posted by at 07:52 PM in Books and Language | Link | Comment [1]

4 February 08

Two Historical Atlases

I haven’t seen either of these publications in print, but both are intriguing. First, the U.S. Census has just released their first major atlas is over 80 years. The book has over 800 maps and weighs in at 7 pounds. Happily, the complete content of the book is available as PDF downloads, though each chapter makes for a large download, averaging around 15 Mb apiece.

Second, last fall the University of California Press published a Historical Atlas of California, written by Derek Hayes. With nearly 500 historical maps and illustrations, the book should be a visual feast.

Posted by at 10:30 PM in Maps | Link | Comment

15 January 08

How to Stay Busy in Winter

photo of gull book jacket We bought a copy of this massive tome yesterday at the UC Davis Bookstore. It’s awe-inspiring. Gulls seem like the last frontier in birding, even more than sparrows…

Posted by at 04:20 PM in Books and Language | Link | Comment [4]

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