31 December 2012

2012: Books in Review

Always carry a sword an a book-it worked for St. Catherine.

2012 is almost at its end. It has been an interesting, and at times, sporadic, reading year. I'm not about to offer a litany of book reviews, first because I tend to have lengthy opinions about nearly everything I read, but also because I have this terrible habit (or wonderful, depending on how you look at it), of moving on so quickly to the next book that book reviews get neglected (save my personal notes). But here is a rough approximation of what I read in 2012, in no particular order (* indicates titles I have started):

Eugenics and Other Evils, G.K. Chesterton

On Being Human, Bl. Fulton Sheen

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen, Christopher McDougall

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain

Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade

30 December 2012

Making Christmas Books

During my time in college and grad school, I had the great pleasure of working in book preservation, which was both fun and relaxing. After hours of class and studying, there was nothing like sewing pamphlets and re-casing books to make me feel both productive and rejuvenated. A special pleasure comes from constructing books by hand, seemingly creating something out of nothing.

This year, as in the past, I embarked on some Christmas book-making. I decided to make a sketchbook for one of my relatives.

Getting started with book-binding can require a substantial initial investment in tools and supplies (there is always the pipe dream of having my own iron book press...). I splurged this year and acquired some colorful linen thread, and also made my own book cloth using material from this fabulous fabric boutique in Chicago (they have the rare distinction of making me excited about fabric shopping-and they have an online store!). 

Supplies, ready to go.

Books have two major parts-the text block and the case or boards. I first made my book cloth using the fabric, iron-on adhesive, and tissue paper, and adhered that and the endpapers to the boards. Next, I assembled the text block by cutting down letter-size paper and folding the sheets into individual signatures, or gatherings of 10 pages each. I then marked and punctured holes in the signatures and boards for sewing.

Signatures and boards, ready to be sewn.

Since a sketchbook was the desired result, I opted to bind my book by sewing the boards and signatures together with a Coptic stitch, which is both easier than making a full case (no glue required) and provides a functional and attractive result. Coptic binding allows for the book to lay open flat on its own-perfect for a sketchbook.

The finished product.

Sometime in the near future I'll be working on a regular full case, and will post pictures then. If you'd like to see some beautiful examples of bookbinding from more seasoned and gifted artists, search for journals or hand-made books on Etsy or through a Google image search.

Merry Christmas!

13 December 2012

Dreaming of a White Christmas...

Where is that snow-conjuring book? ::sigh:: One can always pray for snow.

08 December 2012

Two Years Later: Why Library School Isn't So Bad After All

Seeing as final exam time is upon us, and I find myself, for once (for all?) free from the usual deluge of papers and tests, I thought it an appropriate time to write about the topic of grad school. Fall in particular seems to be the traditional high season for moaning, reflecting, and issuing doomsday warnings about graduate school in general and library school in particular. Letters to a Young Librarian and Academic Librarian have recently published some of the many classic "Things I Didn't Learn in Library School" posts, and Hack Library School regularly features posts about library school life (most of which I wish were more brutally honest).

Outside of Libraryland, the off-the-wall Penelope Trunk (whose blog you should really read if you don't already-be warned of occasional foul language and adult content) has numerous posts addressing stupid attitudes towards graduate education (see also here, here, and here), with many pieces in other media outlets trumpeting the same tune. Usually theses posts, and those written by librarians, serve as opportunities to complain about the vast inadequacies and injustices of LIS/grad education, for which there is ample justification. But here I would like to take a slightly different tact, and highlight some of the reasons why I found Library School (and life afterward) to be a refreshingly different experience than graduate studies in other liberal arts or social science disciplines that I could have pursued otherwise.

02 December 2012

Book Apocalypse-Not Now

Almost as soon as e-books came on the scene, there have been talks of the demise of the book as we have long known it. These doomsday predictions are far from being true. While rapid technological reform (a more accurate term than 'progress' I think) has become the norm in today's world, it is far too soon to make such a forecast about books. E-books have been on the market in a significant way since just the mid-2000s; the codex has existed in virtually unchanged form for more than 1,500 years. In just that short time, we have already discovered that the amazing convenience and storage capacity of e-readers come with a price, with draconian (i.e. anti-sharing and ownership) DRM policies and rapid generational updates ensuring that e-readers function without some of the most useful features of the traditional codex.


While I am quick to refute those who claim the traditional book has run its course, I am often disappointed by the overly-sentimental apologias that are usually put forward by defenders of the traditional codex. The chorus of sappy humanists defending books on the basis of emotional significance and sensory experience (see here and here) does contain a few grains of truth, but books don't need such a subjective appeal in their defense. It makes for nice drama and all, but the traditional codex will not continue to endure because of its emotional power (or use as an ironic prop), but rather due to their remarkable technological persistence. The practical value of books lies in their function and design-not aesthetics.