The major task at my studio this week has been to make packages of bound, pre-publication review copies of Thaliad, forthcoming in November from Phoenicia, for the big review lists: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal. These outfits are very selective and only review a small percentage of the books they receive. Then there's the effort and expense of pulling all the required elements together into a presentation package -- ISBN and technical info, author's bio, previous credits, blurbs and comments on previous books, illustrations and cover art -- and essentially "making" the book itself three to four months prior to publication.
After a couple of years running a tiny publishing house, I understand very well why bigger publishers have staffs, and interns, and larger budgets, and also why so many of them go out of business.
And I see why it continues to appeal to me. There's such pleasure in collaboration, made tangible when I see my own work coming together with Marly Youmans' words, and Clive Hick-Jenkins' collages. But there's more to it. As I was remembering yesterday while I printed and cut and bound these copies, I've been "making books" ever since I was a little girl. I found an early one when we were moving from Vermont: it was about 2 1/2 x 2/12 inches square, with a text written in pencil and illustrations in colored pencil; I must have made it when I was about seven or eight. There's something about the whole process, from conception to holding the finished object, that is deeply satisfying to me; it's part of what led me to write and do art, and certainly what led to my interest and, later, professional career in calligraphy, typography and graphic design, and the book arts.
It all felt like a particularly appropriate process for this book, too, because so much of Thaliad is about re-learning the old ways, the handcrafts and basic skills and wisdom, after an apocalypse. Clive picked up on this in his choice of a folk-art motif, drawn from early-American quilts, for the illustration style.
Some things about us, deep inside, simply don't change very much over the years, but technology certainly has. I would have given my best swirly glass marbles, half a century ago, for the ability to do what I was able to do this week in terms of computer files and ease of printing multiple copies right in my own studio. But the most satisfying part was still the handwork: feeling the pages under my fingers, hearing the swish of the papercutter blade, watching the cut sheets pile up to become a book-block, and finally, binding them into a book that could be paged-through and easily read. It's an elemental process, one that connects me with medieval scribes and woodblock printers and even further back, and still feels somehow miraculous and very human, emerging as it does out of our desire to create, to communicate, to share.