A book is a book…

December 11, 2018

Living Iron is in production. My bookbinder’s heart is excited: ten years after A Resistible Force I am going from the printing press to the binder’s workshop. The scale and speed of industrial book manufacture cannot be compared to the craft I once learned, yet the basic principles remain the same and so does the entire atmosphere: the scent of ink, the weight and crispness of good paper, and the pride of the people at work here.

Large sheets of paper are printed on both sides with pages whose order, at first glance, looks odd. The typographer has placed these pages in such a position that their numbers will follow one another once the sheets have been folded several times in half to form sections. The printer in turn has made sure the pages superpose exactly on both sides of the paper. After folding, these ‘signatures’ will be pressed and sewn together to constitute the book block; small marks printed along their outer folds must be aligned in descending order to make sure no section is missing.

Although we were taught to do this laborious task by hand in front of a good light with a bone folder, the machine here quits itself of the job faster than the eye can see, and the lines of text and images fit from one page to the next as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

All the sections are now ordered, ready to be sewn,

the little printed marks are well aligned on the folds.

And even in this incredibly mechanised environment I still encounter familiar material, bobbins of thread, colourful linens, ribbon bookmarks, and in a corner, for one-off assignments, heavy cast iron presses and board shears.


I cannot wait to pick up my own equipment again.