Tuesday, March 22, 2011


One of my sources of ideas (there are many) is an “aggregator” of arts content called “Arts Journal.”  http://www.artsjournal.com/   Arts Journal's editor is Douglas McLennan, formerly an arts columnist and arts reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Weekly. Doug . . . is currently acting director of the National Arts Journalism Program while it reinvents itself.”  The source blogs are listed so if you see one you really like, you could break away to follow it alone.  McLennan gives the blog posts enticing short titles, sorts them into categories and links them to the sources.  All you have to do is go down the list and see what interests you.  An earlier version to which many of us became devoted was Arts & Letters Daily - ideas, criticism, debate or http://aldaily.com My computer used to be set to use it as an opening page every day.
Today on Artsjournal in the little section that suggests videos from YouTube there were two vids which, taken together and pondered, have a lot to tell us.  First is a 1947 Encyclopedia Britannica explanation of how to manufacture a book.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBztGX-2i1M   Watching the dozens of people in a printing plant repetitiously making, sorting and moving the simple components of books, the industrial nature of the project becomes clear:  molten metal, molds, frames, assembly lines, hot glue, sharp knives, rollers and conveyor belts.  Rows of people standing up, fitting into the machines’ needs.  But remaining employed, useful without education so long as they have two arms and two hands.  Today’s version is far more automated, computerized, though my brother once had a job sitting next to a big commercial press as the quality control man.  He perched on a stool, grabbed a copy of a magazine off the assembly line, quickly flipped through it to look for gaps and blunders, put it aside and grabbed another.  He said it was one of the worst jobs he ever had.  He is college educated.
One component in this little movie that superficially seems the same is the first element:  the scowling author, a good-looking young man, sitting at a proper desk with a big typewriter.  He pulls the last sheet of paper from the roller, puts it on a four-inch stack of paper, and presumably mails it to the mighty publisher who either owns a book manufacturing plant or has enough money to contract with one.
The next video is about who that scowling (to indicate skeptical intelligence, I presume) man has become.  Everybody.  Scott Simon of NPR (quite friendly, so what can he know about the world?  Isn’t knowing a matter of giving us the angry word of truth?) provides advice about composing stories, not for PRINT but for audible publishing.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiX_WNdJu6w   Words as conversation.
Things are falling nicely into place for me to make some points.  Jane Friedman recently listed the four ways print is “published” these days. This is my version and I am widening the concept to include more than letters on paper or even letters on screens.  I’m defining published as “made available to readers.” 
  1. “Heritage” -- meaning old-fashioned presses handled by a company that finances everything from choosing the work, editing, buying the paper, distributing and so on, producing an own-able object. 
  2.   Print-on-demand -- as few copies as you please -- which may be marketed through a company (intermediating) that contracts with the author to do all or part of producing and distributing paper “books.”  (Espresso POD machines are INSTANT print-on-demand -- well, it takes about a half hour, long enough for a cup of coffee.)
  3.   EPublish -- a company agrees to do all or part of the work of editing, formating, providing access, and “discovery” -- how people know it exists and how to get to it.
  4.   Disintermediated publishing, direct from the author.  Maybe a paper book, possibly an electronic book acquired through online sources as an ebook, read in a number of different ways on various devices.
  5.   Audible books downloaded or purchased, on tape or as mp3’s or via radio.
  6.   Multiple media ebooks with videos or music or print or any other arranged content that can be electronically conveyed via devices.
  7.   Doubling back:  artists’ books, like Tim Barrus' one-of-a-kind book I posted the video about yesterday.  Sometimes there are a dozen copies.  A woman who did this wanted to make one of my sermons (about Time as a serpent) into a book shaped like a snake and she even had chosen the blue-green scaley paper to use -- but she had a grandchild instead.
Which is a good place to tie this off, because there really is no end to the many ways stories can be conveyed -- how about sign language? -- and Scott Simon’s pointers about “telling stories” are necessary because the content, or at least the presentation of it, is changed by the medium.  The point of my serpent sermon was not just that time slithers along, but that as it goes it swallows us, digests us, sorts us into excrement and eggs and extrudes both into the cosmos where we participate as either or both -- discards or the source of some new thing that starts a new serpent.  (And one serpent’s excrement is another serpent’s egg and vice versa.)
One of the best slitherers in the Garden of Book Eden is blogging.  I put a thousand words on here, you comment, tomorrow the same.  But by tomorrow we’re both different.  And I might go back to my blog, edit it, organize twenty or so posts into a paper book or an ebook because the topics fit together or because they follow a line of thought.  I might add illustrations or not.  I might ask whether I can include some of your comments or other writing in it.  Maybe drawings or photos or maybe a bit of music.  Possibly in several languages.
At present I’m not doing anything but blogging, streaming short essays.  I only want to write.  I don’t want to do anything else.  But an intelligent computer-equipped person (possibly through the helpfulness of a library or cyber-café) could right this minute begin to supply contracted work in editing, researching, developing markets, organizing distribution, and all the other things that scowling young men and tubby old ladies don’t want to do because they are busy writing.  Intermediating is where it’s “at” for alert people who want to work with stories.  If you only want to write, you no longer need an intermediary.


Art Durkee said...

I imagine that the artisanal hand-made art book is one key way the book will endure. I've made a couple of hand-made art books and plan to make more.

I am also aware of a small but dedicated movement of printers restoring and using older hand-set type on older hand-set presses, to do specialized publishing of limited runs of materials of all kinds. My sister is interested in becoming one of these. She already has the bindery skills.

I like artisan books because they remind us that reading a book isn't only about absorbing the text, the contents, it is an entire sensual experience in itself. When I was a kid, I used to love the smells of paper and ink used, and loved that about the books and newspapers I read.

A lot of writers are biased towards the text, of course. For them, the book is just a carrier of their brilliant ideas, so they don't really care what format the book is in do long as it delivers their brilliant words, and they can make money off it.

I've thought more than once that it would be interesting to offer a college course to writers that would be a year-long course that would start with them writing, say, a book of poems, than take them all the way through design, typography, printing, and bindery. Since I have all those skills, it would be interesting to teach such a class. Maybe someday.

Anonymous said...

you would enjoy two shows at the Holter in Helena:


Sherman Gallery
Jan 21 – April 3, 2011
Reception: Friday, Jan 21, 5:30 – 8pm

The stark beauty of Montana’s High Plains is captured by three of the most accomplished photographers working today: Lee Friedlander and Lois Conner of New York and Geoffrey James of Canada. Dramatic black-and-white images accompany the work of 22 prominent writers from The Wide Open, edited by author Annick Smith and Susan O’Connor, founder of the American Prairie Reserve

Image: Geoffrey James, North of Winifred, 2004.

Bair Gallery
Feb 21 – April 3, 2011
Reception: Friday, Jan 21, 5:30 – 8pm
Gallery Talk: Saturday, Jan 22, 11:00am – noon

Few artists capture the tension between the land and the human presence as Stephanie Frostad. Her work embodies the phrase “way will open,” an old Quaker expression of faith for navigating through uncertain times. This innovative exhibition brings together landscape studies, still life and figure drawings, and paintings in a studio environment that reveals the artist’s own inner world.