Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ten days of bibliophile heaven

The summer is almost over, but the fun is just starting. There are lots of reasons to look forward to this fall, because starting September 26, we will have ten days packed with exciting book events. There will be something for everybody: lectures and talks, fairs and festivals, exhibits and workshops. What is even better, most of them are free to the public. So on your mark, get set... mark your calendars!

September 26 - Mark Purcell, the Libraries Curator to the United Kingdom's National Trust, will give an illustrated lecture about the Trust's fascinating libraries.

September 28-29 - You can browse or even take home one of the unusual books or other ephemera on offer at the Vancouver Book Fair.

September 29 - The Word on the Street is a wonderful celebration of word and reading, and brings to the public free events and exhibits. Don't forget to stop by the Alcuin Society booth.

October 2 - The Vancouver Alcuin Society Book Awards ceremonies will celebrate the winners of the competition held in spring. This year's speaker will be David Esslemont, printmaker and publisher.

October 4-5 - Project Space presents Vancouver Art/Book Fair that features dozens of publishers as well as various programs and performances.

October 5 - The much awaited Wayzgoose will present printers and book artists who will disclose some of their trade secrets through exhibits and demonstrations.

October 7 - Toronto will be the host of the east coast Alcuin Society Book Awards ceremonies, featuring Rod McDonald, the Nova Scotia type designer.

We can only hope that this concentrated dose will fully capture the spirit and essence books. Please follow the blog for more information about each event, including hours, locations and other details.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bookstores like dinosaurs

As we plunge head first into the technological age, our lives are transferred little by little to the digital realm. We adopt all kinds of new objects and and concepts that have an 'e' (from the ubiquitous emails to ezines, ebooks and ereaders) or 'i' (iPods, iPhones and iPads) in front. Some things develop, and other things become extinct. And there is no secret that bookstores belong to the latter category.

We can all join in mourning as these spaces of culture and magic disappear one after another. Many of us have fond memories of childhood or dreamscapes that belong in a bookstore. That will not be the case for the generations to come. Is it possible that in a few years young children will frown at the word 'bookstore' and wonder what it means, and if it's one of those words you are not supposed to repeat? No, because they will have heard of 'ebookstore'. They just wouldn't know that you can sit in it.

Jokes aside, it is hard not to be sad when you see independent bookstores closing one by one, like valiant soldiers fighting a war they know they cannot win. Before we start pointing fingers and placing blame ("Burn in hell, Amazon"), it would be interesting to examine more closely the situation at hand.

The life and death of bookstores is invariably linked to the debate of print vs. digital. However, the matter is a lot more complex than a simple association. As Joseph Esposito writes in An Industry Pining for Bookstores, it's a vicious circle: as readers do not have a place to buy books any more, they are driven online, where they get a chance to buy the digital version for a cheaper price. Once they get a taste of that (now they also own an ereader), it is hard for them to go back to print books, and thus publishers are the ones hurt next in the print ecosystem.

But to me the fate of bookstores seems to be linked to the sheer number of books we see published nowadays. When books were scarce, they were held in high regard, they were cared for, sometimes read over and over again, and passed from generations to generations. As I grew up, it was considered a mortal sin to write your notes on a book, bend its pages or treat it with anything but respect. My father would encourage me to wrap it in a newspaper as I was reading it, so that the cover was protected. It's hard to preserve this kind of behaviour when we are swamped in books, especially when they come with the added curse of dead trees and we know we cannot house more than a handful of books in our tiny apartments.

So will bookstores go the way of music stores and movie rental places? I would like to hope not, the way I hope the tactile quality of a book and the guilty pleasure of turning those pages one by one will keep the print alive. But it's clear that a change of the business model is called for. Maybe bookstores can look at how coffee shops have evolved, and become a place where people meet and talk about reading and writing books. Of course, they will not be the same dusty, mysterious places of wonder, but they would not go like the dinosaurs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jan Kellett - De Walden Press

Jan Kellett from De Walden Press was the only Canadian exhibitor at the Miniature Book Society Conclave on Sunday, August 11. Her passion for miniature books is obvious in the exquisite artistry and excellent craft with which her books are created. They are small jewels in limited editions, designed, written and illustrated by Jan, printed in letterpress and leather bound.

Jan Kellett at the MBS Conclave in August 2013

Out of the books displayed, it was Storming Shakespeare that caught my attention most. It is a beautiful book of 73 mm x 65 mm x 28 mm which comes with a leather-trimmed slipcase, in a Varied Edition of 20, all numbered and signed. This means each book is unique, due to the monotype printing technique.

Storming Shakespeare springs from Jan's passion for Shakespeare, and in this book she chose to focus on the presence of storms in three of his plays: Julius Caesar, King Lear and The Tempest. The book consists of three sections: the first is an essay exploring the meaning of storms in the three plays, the second contains quotations from Julius Caesar and King Lear, while the last deals with the storms in The Tempest.

This section is the most fascinating part of the book, with illustrations and quotations printed on Japanese handmade gampi tissue, which gives it a charming surreal quality that complements the theme of the book and the mood of the play. In Jan's words, here she tried to create a "suspension of belief." She imagined what a whole stage production would look like in a book format, with stage lighting represented by the coloured background, and the volatile words and illustrations moving before the eyes of the reader.

Craft and symbolism intertwine throughout the whole making of the book. Storming Shakespeare is bound in blue-purple leather that reminds of heavy storm clouds. The illustration on the cover represents the four elements affected by the events in each play. The paper used is Magnani Pescia Book with pastepaper endpapers in ultramarine blue with gold flakes. The construction of the book is also original. The book can be closed with ribbon on one side and a silver hook and loop on the other.

De Walden Press is located on Vancouver Island and specializes in miniature books, no larger than three inches. All books are handmade by Jan Kellett using quality materials.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The MBS Conclave 2013 in Pictures

Last week, the Miniature Book Society wrapped up their annual gathering in Vancouver, British Columbia, and if by chance you missed out on the event, here's a photo recap of just a few highlights.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz, in miniature! What better book exemplifies the spirit of wonder than this! Published in Leipzig in 2007 by Miniaturbuchverlag.

Quadrupeds with Elegant Engravings from Drawings by Alfred Mills

Here's a little title with a lot of pedigree: Quadrupeds with Elegant Engravings from Drawings by Alfred Mills was published in 1815!

James M Brogan at MBS Vancouver

James Brogan is the publisher of The Microbibliophile, a bimonthly journal which has been covering the miniature book world since 1977. Learn more about subscribing here.

Editions by Plum Park Press

Tony Firman of Plum Park Press had some exquisite bound volumes of the classics on display, and how does he create such fine work? He also makes his own bookbinding hardware in miniature! You simply must see his meticulously adorable bookbinding tools of the trade here. I dare say any one of these tools would be an appropriate addition to a book lover's mantel!

Leatherbound three volume miniature set

Arno Gschwendtner had a great selection of antique miniature books, including this leather bound three volume set which looks impressive at any scale!


Here Arno shows a copy of Betbuechlein, the Viennese printer Ludwig Bonnoberger's prayer book of 1607, reprinted in miniature in 1912 in Vienna.

A Pandora's Box

A Pandora's Box, with unconventional binding! Miniature art book demonstrated by Aiden from Lux Mentis.

Cigars, Whisky, and Beer

Miniature books have long been a showpiece of technology, craftsmanship, and creativity. It seems they also seek to celebrate every imaginable passion, like this three volume set — an ode to cigars, whisky, and beer, also brought in by Lux Mentis. Whatever your passion, you can rest assured, there's a miniature book to suit your taste! Now the challenge; seek, and ye shall find it!

2013 MBS Competition & Exhibition

The officially entered books in the 2013 MBS Competition & Exhibition were presented in this lovely large scale bound cabinet, which would make the ultimate display case for the connoisseur collector! The truth is, while every book collector's shelves are generally full to overflowing, there's always room for a few more miniatures! Next time you're thinking of the perfect gift for a true book lover, think small!

This blog post really just scratched the surface, photographed in a whirlwind tour last Sunday afternoon. For more photos, see the complete photoset over at the Alcuin photostream. Special thanks to BC's own Jan Kellett of De Walden Press for playing host to the conference! Till next year!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The search for Canada's Most Iconic Book Cover

In July, CBC started the search for Canada's Most Iconic Book Cover by asking readers to submit their suggestions. The 32 finalists were selected and pitched against each over five rounds until only two remained: Anne of Green Gables originally published in 1908, cover designed by Ben Stahl, and Love You Forever, first published in 1986, illustrator Sheila McGraw. If you missed your chance to vote in the other rounds, you still have time to contribute to the championship round if you vote before 11:59 pm ET, on Sunday, August 18. Right now the results are pretty close, it could go either way, so go ahead and have your say. (Click on the image below to enlarge the chart and see the results of each round.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vancouver - the city with most book lovers in Canada

Amazon has just released the list of the Most Well-Read Cities in Canada, and Vancouver tops the list. Two more cities from British Columbia found there way to the Top 20: Burnaby in 11th place and Surrey in 17th. Moreover, Vancouverites were the ones who ordered most books from the Business category. The title most likely to be found on the bookshelves of the Vancouver entrepreneurs? StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Miniature book fair

The Miniature Book Society holds an annual gathering called Conclave. This year it will take place in Vancouver, BC, between August 9-11, at Holiday Inn on West Broadway. It is accompanied by a book fair open to the public on Sunday, August 11, from 12 to 4 pm. You are welcome to admire the books on display as well as purchase some of these mini beauties.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The evolution of Lolita

Lolita never grows up. She is stuck inside Nabokov's novel, precocious, fragmented, obsessive. But the controversies that her story has caused are constantly changing and evolving for generations of readers, while providing fodder for critics' interpretations and analyses. But the task of creating a cover for Lolita can be just as challenging and exciting. Throughout the years, book designers have reimagined and reinvented this interesting character. The different perspectives are very compelling: from Stanley Kubrik's staple heart-shaped glasses, to a girl in a swimsuit hiding her face behind a blank book, here are how book designers saw Lolita.

Starting from the top left corner, going left to right, here are the years and publishing houses:

1966 // US Berkley Medallion Books // New York
1969 // GB Transworld // London
1973 // GB Transworld // London
1989 // US Vintage International // New York
1995 // GB Penguin // London
1997 // US Random House // New York
2005 // US Random House // New York
2006 // GB Penguin // London
2011 // GB Penguin // London

But let us not forget that Lolita has become a cultural phenomenon all over the world, being translated and published in many languages. Here are nine more arresting interpretations of Lolita as viewed by book designers around the globe.

1964 // Altin Kitaplar Yayinevi // Istanbul, Turkey
1966 // Mondadori // Milano, Italy
1970 // Omega // Amsterdam, Netherlands
1988 // Dar Al-Adab // Beirut, Lebanon
1997 // Gyldendal // Copenhagen, Denmark
1997 // Gallimard // Paris, France
2002 // Patakis // Athens, Greece
2003 // Muza // Warsaw, Poland
2004 // AST // Moscow, Russia

An interesting observation is how the cover designers negotiated the novel's message and content so that it would be in keeping with a certain culture and time period. The representations vary from obvious to cryptic, from realistic to figurative, from innocent and pure to seductive and risqué.