Communion Of Dreams


Making an impression.

My, how time flies …

I’m a little startled to discover that it’s been three years since I last posted about doing the leather bindings for the custom edition of Communion of Dreams. No, I know it’s been a while — but I have been giving this binding a lot of thought, so it seems like it was still a recent ‘pending’ project. I liked the idea of using the sewing structure to incorporate classic raised leather cords on the spine of the book, but I just didn’t like the sparseness of the rest of the cover design. The initial tests were OK, but the more I thought about them, the less satisfied I was with what the final product would be. The problem was that while the cords under leather gave a nice tactile effect, there wasn’t enough detail possible.

So I kept trying to figure out how to keep the relief I liked but to get more definition. I won’t go through all the different iterations of ideas I considered, but there were a lot, mostly along the lines of trying different ways of mounting different weights of cord/string or molding/engraving the board under the leather. But each approach failed to give me the definition I wanted. Worse, each one felt further and further removed from the image of the “Williamson Oak” by Peter Haigh I had used for the paperback/printed hardcover/website.

Then recently another bookbinding project got me to thinking about using something like a woodcut as a way to make an impression on a leather cover, and I realized that I had gotten so set on the idea of using the raised cords of the sewing structure as the basis for the rest of the cover texture I hadn’t considered the possibility of impressing the leather rather than trying to raise it. What would be required would be to make a plate which would press down most of the leather, leaving the design I wanted alone so that it would stand up (and out).

So that what I tried today. Here’s how I did a quick test:

20160529_160407

That’s my high-tech, fancy “polymer plate” … also known as a plastic cutting board. I did a quick sketch on it with a marker, then carved into it using a couple of different cutting heads on a Dremel tool.

Then I mounted a piece of goatskin and a piece of calfskin onto some bookboard, got it good and damp, and then pressed it quickly in one of my book presses. Here are the results:

20160529_160343 20160529_160355

This was just a trial to see if my press would generate sufficient pressure, and if the plate would hold up to it. I am very happy with how well they turned out, and I learned what I need to change for the final version (such as smoothing out the surface of the plate, adding more detail and title, and — oh, yeah — reversing the image).

So, progress! Hey, it only took three years for me to get past my perceptual bias …😉

 

Jim Downey



Bad medieval book manners.

Oh, this is just completely delightful! Here’s the intro, but you definitely want to go read the whole thing:

Bad medieval book manners. Part 1

Handle with care. Those who have worked with manuscripts in libraries and archives know that the casual relationship between the reader and the printed book stops at the door and a special covenant enters into force once we approach bound parchment (ok, some paper, too, mais j’en passe). ‘Be careful with that’, ‘no flash, please’, ‘don’t open it like that’, ‘use a book-rest, don’t you see you’re hurting it’ are ululations typical of a manuscript room. Needless to say, things were not quite like that in the long Middle Ages. Those manuscripts that have made it through fire and water, deliberate destruction or noxious negligence usually tell us stories of a book culture where the reader and the book were only slowly coming into a friendly bond. Historians have been telling us about book damage arising from negligence, weakness or deliberate fault, but wouldn’t it be great to hear the story from a contemporary who’s lobbied à pleins poumons for the dignity and sacrality of books? This man was Richard de Bury (1287-1345), bishop of Durham, Lord Chancellor, Treasurer and Privy Seal and author of the ‘Philobiblon’, a work that is as fascinating as it has been neglected by modern historians. It is Richard’s manifesto for bibliophilia or the love of books. In it, books take central stage, speaking to us, often through personification, about their ordeals, rewards and achievements. It is, for me, the greatest confession of faith of a bibliophile.

And part 2 is here: Bad medieval book manners. Part 2

Go read and enjoy!

(And yes, I have seen every such type of damage in my conservation practice.)

 

Jim Downey



Faith.

I wrote this back around 1993, and had it up on my archive site. Yesterday I had reason to look it up, and first looked here, figuring that at some point I must have reposted it. But a search didn’t turn it up, and I thought that I should correct that oversight.

It’s interesting to now look back to it, and to see how little my attitude/approach to the subject has changed with another 23 years of book conservation experience.

 

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Twain, in his early work Innocents Abroad, described how Christian craftsmen were given special dispensation to enter mosques in the Holy Land in order to install or repair the clocks which called the faithful to prayer.  Sometimes I feel like those clockmakers, and wonder how they reconciled their non-belief in Islam with the service they provided that faith.  Did they feel the grace of Allah’s touch in their craftsmanship, or in the heartfelt thanks and blessings they received from the faithful?

I am a book conservator in private practice in the Midwest, and a significant number of the books I work on are religious texts, usually but not exclusively bibles.  While I am a deeply spiritual person, largely in the Christian tradition, I do not consider myself to be a person of faith, and I have doubts about the existence of a single divine entity by whatever name.  Still, I respect the religions of others, and am comfortable working on the books that deeply religious people bring to me.

Repair of holy scripture is an odd thing for an agnostic to do.  My friends of faith say that it is part of my path of spiritual growth, perhaps the way I will be led to discovery and belief.  Perhaps.  But I consider it more that I am keeping faith with my clients.  A bible, particularly a personal bible which is used for daily prayer and inspiration, is probably more private and revealing than a diary.  I can tell from the way the binding is broken, from the wear on the pages, from the passages highlighted or notes made, what is important to the owner, what their innermost fears and hopes are.  I suspect that often I know more about these things than they do themselves.  I am a therapist of paper and glue.

These books are precious, not in a monetary sense, but in a personal one.  I can see it in their eyes when they bring the bible to me, asking me if it can be repaired, worried less about the cost than the time it will be absent from their lives.  The repair of these books is usually simple and straightforward, just an hour or two of labor.  I can fit this work in between larger projects, and get the bible back to the owner in a matter of just a few days.  This news usually comes as a relief.  But almost always the owner is still hesitant let go of the book, hands slowly passing it over as they search my face for a clue as to whether they can trust me with this part of themselves.  Just as a veterinarian receives a beloved animal who needs treatment with gentleness and grace, out of concern for the owner as much as for the pet, I receive their bibles as a sacred trust.

And when they come for their bibles, I am sometimes embarrassed.  Embarrassed because of the praise, the occasional blessings, and the overflowing joy they feel.  It is times like this that I feel that my hands are not really my own, my craftsmanship and skill not something that I can take pride in, but a rare gift that comes from outside of myself.  And I am grateful, whatever the source, for this touch of grace that enters my life.

 



The Storytellers.

You should read this: Born to Be Conned. Seriously, it’s a very good examination of the human tendency to construct narratives to explain the world around us, and how that trait can easily be manipulated and used against us. Here’s a good passage, explaining why we’re susceptible to grifters of every sort:

Stories are one of the most powerful forces of persuasion available to us, especially stories that fit in with our view of what the world should be like. Facts can be contested. Stories are far trickier. I can dismiss someone’s logic, but dismissing how I feel is harder.

And the stories the grifter tells aren’t real-world narratives — reality-as-is is dispiriting and boring. They are tales that seem true, but are actually a manipulation of reality. The best confidence artist makes us feel not as if we’re being taken for a ride but as if we are genuinely wonderful human beings who are acting the way wonderful human beings act and getting what we deserve. We like to feel that we are exceptional, and exceptional individuals are not chumps.

The piece also reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, because of this insight:

Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself.

I don’t mean to pick on religion here, just to point out that this is a very human trait. In fact, I have often wondered whether it is a defining human characteristic, something which could easily set us apart from other intelligent species. It’s fairly easy to imagine how intelligent, sophisticated, technologically-advanced civilizations could be constructed by species which don’t have this human gift for storytelling. You can, after all, have curiosity and scientific inquiry, art and poetry, even narrative and historiography, without having something like literary fiction.* I think that it might be interesting to write a science fiction story/series based on the premise that humans become the storytellers of the galaxy, because of our unique ability to create explanation narratives unrelated to reality.

How very meta.

 

Jim Downey
*Of course.



In defense of laziness.

I started this blog 9 years ago. Well, OK, that isn’t technically true until next Saturday.

That was 1,823 blog posts ago. And something on the order of a million words, give or take about a hundred thousand, according to my best estimates.

During the same time period I wrote another hundred thousand words or so for freelance articles (here, and elsewhere). And 187 blog posts/another 100,000 words here.

In addition, I helped write/compile/edit Her Final Year (which is available for free download today, btw). And rewrote/edited Communion of Dreams (also available for free download today) at least twice.

Oh, and I’ve been working on St Cybi’s Well. Have about a hundred thousand words done on that.

That’s between one and a half and two million words, depending on how you want to figure it.

And saying it that way sounds a bit impressive, and makes me feel better.

Feel better?

Well, see, I haven’t put up a blog post in almost a month.

And only 10 in the last three months.

And St Cybi’s Well was supposed to be finished more than two years ago.

What gives?

I’m not entirely sure. It’s not writer’s block, exactly, since I have been making progress on SCW, all along. For the last few months I have been in a steep downturn in my usual bipolar cycle, but it hasn’t been so bad that it has caused me the sort of depressive lethargy which can be deadly — I’ve actually had a clear mind and have been fairly productive in other aspects of my life.

Perhaps it’s just laziness.

But I’m not lazy. Oh, I mean that I can be lazy, sometimes, but it is just not usually a defining characteristic of my personality.

Perhaps …

… I dunno, perhaps it is just something that happens to authors, sometimes. And that’s OK. Really.

I guess you could call it unprofessional. Un-workmanlike. But let’s go ahead and call it laziness.

You know, like the laziness of everyone who is overweight. They’re too lazy to go to the gym.

Or the laziness of everyone who isn’t rich. Because clearly, they just don’t work hard enough to earn money.

Or the laziness of all those people who don’t do well in school. Hey, a little more effort, and they could have graduated from an ivy league.

Or the laziness of being judgmental, thinking that you know what other people need to do to improve their lives. To meet your expectations.

Oh, wait, that really is lazy. Sorry.

 

Jim Downey

PS: This isn’t meant in any way to excuse my failure to meet my obligations with my Kickstarter backers. Any such who would like a refund are certainly welcome to it; and for those who continue to tolerate my delay, I will make it up to them when the project is finished.



Remember the fickle finger of fate?*

Good article, worth reading the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The fate of most books is a fragile thing; readers and the media get distracted easily. Any author’s beloved brainchild is more likely than not to slip through the cracks because it came out on the eve of a huge news event, or when the reading public was preoccupied with some other time-devouring darling, whether it be by George R.R. Martin, Karl Ove Knausgaard, or Elena Ferrante. If a novel does seize that fickle attention, it had better deliver on its promises, or the author may never get a second chance. Even when a novelist scores a big hit, the book that follows it isn’t guaranteed anything more than an advantage in garnering review attention. Pop quiz: Can you name the titles of the novels that Alice Sebold, Yann Martel, Mark Haddon, and Patrick Suskind published after The Lovely Bones, The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Perfume?

This also applies to self-published work, of course. Another factor that scares the hell out of me as I keep writing St Cybi’s Well.

But I *think* I’ve just finished the current chapter. I’ll take another look at it tomorrow, and decide. Slow, uneven steps, but forward progress nonetheless.

 

Jim Downey

*A reminder.

 



Freedom First.

Playing a bit off of the title of my previous blog post …

Starting tomorrow, and until further notice, the First of the month for each month will mean that you can download Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year for free. Each month. Every month.

Why? Because offering free downloads is one of the basic promotional tools on the Kindle platform. It’s a way to generate sales and interest in a book. And also because it’s important to get the books to readers who may not be able to afford even the modest price of an e-book. For someone struggling as a care-provider, sometimes even a $2.99 price tag can be hard to budget for. Likewise for people who find themselves on hard times, and need a little hope and escape … something which I like to think Communion of Dreams can provide.

So we’ll give this a try. If you know anyone who might enjoy either or both books, let ’em know that they can download them for free tomorrow. And July 1st. And August 1st. And …

 

Jim Downey




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