Tuesday, September 30, 2008

a few words about 'hobo arona'

A few years ago, Plan B Press was invited to participate in the 215 festival that takes place in the autumn of each year in Philadelphia. We presented some poets who read their work, and in subsequent years we were invited to participate in the festival's book fair. While considering their invitation this year, I looked at the event link from last year (the book fair is called "Lovingly Bound" and has more than small publishers there) whereupon I saw one small concern there called hobo arona who take old discarded books and remakes them as notebooks, address books, or photo albums.

A couple of years ago my wife and I put together a book exactly like what hobo arona does as a journal for ourselves using as our cover an old math textbook. I was pleasantly surprised to see someone doing the same thing as a business. I applauded their effort and checked out their website, and then bought a couple of books. They arrived yesterday.

Awesome! The craftsmanship involved is exceptional. The books are hand-(re)made and each one is unique. Each also comes with a note on the history of the book and a little blurb about the construction process in the back. Definitely the sort of gift to give someone who has "everything".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book arts / book artists

over the past few years I have been exposed to, and become fans of "book artists". Tom Phillips really set the tone for this type of work with his groundbreaking book A Humument. His book came twenty some years after concrete poets began to reconfigure the page and the words on the page, and to reconsider the "canvas" that a book is in its physical nature. Phillips was responding to the experiments of William Burroughs and his "cut-up" techniques, taking them into a completely different visual direction.

I have never held in my hands a sculpted book by Stella Waitzkin, but I admire what she did - using the book as an object. In my own work I have created what I call a 'Liquid Library' which consists of books that have been altered or spray-painted, or sunk to the bottom of a fish tank. I have been working on the notion of "book as object: text as other". The concept that what we accept as "a book" need not be the only definition of that constitutes "a book".

Back in 2001, when the artist Katy Jean was discussing what I might do with the physical dimensions of my as of yet unpublished chapbook Spontaneous Chili one of the ideas was to put the table of contents in the center of the book in the form of a menu. The theme of a menu, rather, the presentation of the book as a form of a menu still hasn't been fully realized but it was an idea that lead in part to the cover image, and to the lay-out of the book in meal category listings, etc.

In 2003, Katy Jean came up with the idea of using vellum for the cover to our 'the Eternal NOW!' poetry series anthology and incorporating the image into the cover and end-pages so that the complete cover was two layers deep and could be changed by flipping open the cover.

But here I stop short to say that these steps were quite small compared to the work of Alisa Goldman and countless others who are doing much more in the way of appearance and presentation of a book. The Canadian artist Michael Snow has also done something remarkable, in my humble opinion, with his book Cover to Cover.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Books that need to be turned into films

Tim Sandlin's first novel, Sex & Sunsets ought be made into a movie. It's better than the three books of his that have been turned into films. Yes, it's quirky but come on, in the Post-Twin Peaks world we live in, quirky is GOOD.

Hey filmmakers, get on the stick! Turn this book into a film already. Katie Holmes as Colette. Come on people, use your imagination! This book is dying to become a film!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

books are like cigarettes in a prison

Went "booking" yesterday and came back with a small load of stuff. Some interesting finds, like the 1930 The Collected Tales of Pierre Louys, illustrated by John Austen - a brilliantly done book published by Argus Books of Chicago. As well as The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson (greatly influenced by the books of Nick Bantock) which was published by Chronicle Books in 1995. A fantastically visual book.

But the title of this entry has to do with the glut that is also out there. The glut of books. In the universe of publishing and booksellers, there is a principle of scarcity that is in play when a book is published. One wants to sell as many copies of a book as they can, of course, as that is part of the deal with printing to begin with. However, after a certain point in time, the book becomes something other : something else. It becomes a commodity. They become cigarettes in a prison, an item of exchange. The words means less that the "thing" of it. Books are traded, swapped out at coffeehouses or the like. Used bookstores exchange store credit for brought in books, and occasionally actual cash is exchanged in the transaction.

Book scouts make their living finding books that sellers want to have on their shelves for customers who request or demand them. The rarer the book, the greater the value. The more prized the find. However, quite often, there are some within this chain who are literally counting books as items in a bulk lot rather carefully examining individual books. To these persons, a book is nothing more than a "unit", they look at books the way bean-counters at the multinational corporations that primarily OWN the publishing industry at the present time do.

And there we come back to the glut. The publishers who, for whatever reason, overreached and printed THOUSANDS more copies than would ever sell. (like the Conrad Hilton book above) For example there are 543 copies of Be My Guest on Amazon alone. Multiple that number by the number of places in America where books might be found; used bookstores, libraries, thrift shops, the street.....and you quickly can appreciate the problem. The greater the number of books, the less valuable it is, the less its worth, the cheaper it is to get ahold of.

As a book seeker, I like books selling for $ .50 but as a publisher I want the books that I publish to retain their worth. It's a dilemma not easily resolved. Especially when say, an Oprah blesses a book that turns out to be a fraud, for example.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the political attack book

I was rummaging through the boxes of books in a local thrift store and found a 1964 book entitled A Texan Looks at Lyndon: A Study in Illegitimate Power by J. Evertts Haley published by a press I never heard of before, The Palo Duro Press of Canyon, Texas. Well, this instantly smacked of presidential political attacks - it was published in an election year, coincidence? No chance!

and I am wondering what the earliest example of this sort of 'expose' during a campaign is. John Adams? Does anyone have a clue?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nicholas Basbanes

I was already a full-blown book junky when I was slowly going through the stacks at George Mason University library where I was doing "work/study" and I pulled off the shelf a copy of Among the Gently Mad by Nicholas Basbanes. Well, I went on to devour all his books. Some were a bit tedious but for the most part, these books were instantly digestible.

I got a lot out of the books, and realized that I was more than a mild collector of books. It was something of an obsession. Not that I would give my lunch money for an old book, nor throw out my kids toys to make room for more shelving but I definitely had a hankering for books. And I was learning as I went.

My trips to used bookstores goes back at least 20 years, to my time at Temple University. Even before, but it became more serious then. I would check out the books in the discount bin of "the-corporate-bookstore-in-the-mall". I remember seeing the film "Henry & June" and leaving the theater and marching right over the such a bookstore in the mall and grabbing a copy of the book, which was discounted 75%.

I began with a small shelf in my bedroom at my parent's house and then, once on my own, the cinder block and 2 x 4 shelving units. Only when moving to Philadelphia in 2002 with Katy Jean did I begin to become more serious about my mass of books. Of course, we moved into an apartment with bookshelves built into what had been closets throughout the place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

the conflict is as old as the hills

I touched on this briefly in my first entry, and it will come up over and again through the course of this blog, the "conflict" between the written word and the use of image. It has been suggested that one reason why the ancient document which we call 'The Bible' begins as it does is that the period of Egyptian captivity led the Israelis more stridently to "the word" as opposed to the images that are the visual-base language we call hieroglyphics. It was a reaction against image as much as anything.

I won't wade too far into the academic merits of the arguments either way, other than to say that all letters in all alphabets have symbolic representational equivalence far older than the "letter" themselves. Far older and much more laden with meaning. We have forgotten a great deal in our current disposal society about the weight of the word, the importance of the Gutenberg press of moveable type. The importance of have metal type. Something solid.

"Reading" an image telling of a story is quite different from reading the words of a story. This requires a different set of skills, of abilities, and finds expression in our society in the phrase "auditory learner" and "visual learner".

Monday, September 15, 2008

beginning as one must

........................as opposed to the other several blogs that I begun and fluttered away from, this one will be constantly updated as it is my one true obsession, BOOKS.

Through Plan B Press, I publish them.
Through Maybooks, I bring them in and sell them online. It also feeds my collection which in some ways differs from my library.

Unlike the Hebrew, I feel that image is more powerful than "the word". Children's books tend to have too many words in them. Tell your story without pesky words. Keep the word count at a minimum, as though you are writing haiku. There aren't enough picture books for adults. Nor pop-up books.

Books should never be found in landfills. Pulp them, if you must, but keep them out of landfills.

True to my current form, here is a picture of my daughter, Julia, mimicking dear old Dad's obsession. She reading a Curious George book. Never got into that series.

Not to be outdone, my youngest son, William, shows his prowess with the Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? book. Eric Carle's books are a big hit around our house.