Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Goodbye to All That

Despite the obvious Robert Graves reference, I’m actually thinking of a nostalgia theme here, a false past that says more about a wan present and an anxious future than Graves’s good riddance salute. I’m talking about the late days of the book-printing plant. Of course, books, especially trade books, will last a while longer, perhaps a good while longer, and printed books will continue through print-on-demand and the like, but now’s the time to visit book-printers before they join the past-fuzzy ranks of the scriptoria. I have had the pleasure of touring a couple of these clickety, fragrant buildings where the descendants of the great printers still ply their trade. Their giant Japanese, six-color separators (my last visit was to a dust jacket printer) and the smell of ink are like suet to a finch. It reminded me of sniffing the mimeographed papers of my school days, but more overwhelming. The clanking of old fashioned presses is gone, replaced by clicking and speed. And then out near the loading dock are piles of books, awaiting cartons and shipping to readers around the country, newly printed, bound, and covered by these unsung literary champions. When all is digital and we lament the loss of books as household design objects and their natural tactility, I’ll remember perfumed visits to book-printers. Like bakeries in the morning. If printed books survive, if the will of content overwhelms the imperative to convenience, these men and women will be their heroes.

4 comments:

Jen said...

I was thinking of this just the other day... my son's girlfriend was waxing poetic over seeing her first Kindle, and I was pretty interested - until I looked down at the book I was holding, finger between the pages to hold my place, and it hit me what this meant. I don't think I'm willing to give up my paper...

Charlotte Elkins said...

Your comment about "mimeographed pages of my school days" brought back an immediate memory of them. I think I'd completely forgotten mimeograph machines...not to mention the flimsy feel of carbon paper.

As a writer who is back in print because of Amazon's Kindle, so I've quickly become a fan of ebooks, I do have to tell you of a recent experience I had. I bought a "new" paperback of an old Christianna Brand paperback. It must have sat on the shelf for years. Within minutes of starting to read it the spine gave away--the glue had failed--and pages started dropping out.

Mass market paperbacks were never meant to be sturdy and collectible (and frequently the books themselves didn't stand the test of time). I don't think it's going to be a big loss if they bypassed paper and went directly to electronic format.

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