Getting Familiar with Pre-digital Books… by Making Them

In yesterday’s post, I argued (ranted?) that “in order to understand the impact of digital technologies on The Book, it’s important to think through these questions in terms of non-digital/pre-digital books.” Yep. In a much more sober and reflective state this afternoon, I’m sticking with that one.

But how to do it? There are two ways that I’m thinking of today.

The first is to explore the history of the book. And I’m talking all that way back to scrolls. Then the codex. That transition (read: to pages) is what I’m considering as my working definition for the beginning of The Book. Lots of books, articles, and chapters dedicated to those sorts of pursuits, and I’m sure I’ll be commenting on them as I work my way through them.

In that same post from yesterday, I noted that it’s important to find a way to participate in the future of the book by using contemporary and emerging tools to produce digital books. But it would seem to follow that same logic to say that a useful way to get a better sense for pre-digital books is to actually participate in their production. I’m thinking of traditional book making practices. Handmade books, actually. That’s right. Folded paper. Bone tools. Binding thread and needles. Glues. Leather. Bookboard.

I’ve done some handmade books before. I made a manuscript of poems about the history of anatomical theory and practice. It was called Decomposition. For the cover and spine, I cut sheets of metal mesh (.5″ grid) into 8.75″x11.25″ rectangles, along with a narrow spine, and sewed them together with small gauge wire. And then, using the same wire, sewed a stack of inkjet-printed pages, peppered with images of skeletons from Vesalius, into the spine. The edges of the “covers” had incredibly sharp barbs from the clipped mesh wires. It was difficult to avoid being cut when reading the book. I loved it. It was an edition of one. Maybe I’ll post some pictures of it.

It’s actually a great hobby. But I’m going to call it research.