Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is It the Book—Or the Dust Jacket?

Is It the Book—Or the Dust Jacket?

For some of us, there are items or activities that arouse our ardor—certain things about which we wax poetic and declare an undying dedication normally reserved for family or country. For some it may be fine cheeses, for others it is scented candles, and—for the pitiable few—stamp collecting.

But I've been wondering—to what extent is it the "thing" we love, and to what extent is it the effects with which we surround that "thing?"

An example. I like bourbon. I actually like the taste of bourbon (though I won't deny the effect has some attraction, too).

But the way I like to have my bourbon matters, too. I like to have it at home—in my library—in a crystal tumbler specifically for the purpose. The play of light through the tawny liquid and through the many facets of the cut lead crystal glass. The satisfying squeak and subtle pop of the cork. Hell, I even like being able to say, "I'm a bourbon man." Are these things—these trappings—the better part of my fondness for bourbon?

Now, the chief reason I've been wondering about this is how I make my living. You see, I make books. Well, to be perfectly honest, I manage the people who work in a plant that makes the books. (But, hell, I like to be able to say, "I'm a book man.") 

Not surprisingly, I've got my own collection of books—my library. Some are antiques, some are signed copies—quite possibly some are even of value as collectibles. It's safe to say that I can appreciate, probably more than most, the physical attributes of a really well made book. (I'll even read one now and again.)

But what might surprise people to learn—I've got no real objections to the growing phenomenon of e-books. (Mind you, I don't actually own any e-books. After all, I'm not stupid—I know where my paycheck comes from.)

Unlike many ardent "readers" I know, I would not insist I've simply got to crack open the binding and feel the grain of the paper, the flipping sound of the pages, to fully derive the pleasure of a good read. I know there is the work, and there is the book, and the two are separate. I can appreciate the qualities of a well-made book as I might appreciate the qualities of any well-made piece of work. But that appreciation is separate from my appreciation of what is contained in the book—what is captured on the pages. After all, we read the words and not the pages.

Very often, I hear people defending—to me, as if to mollify me about the impending demise of my industry—their fixation with the tactile experience associated with reading an actual, physical book. They'll speak of holding a tome of some heft in their hand, curling up in a favorite chair, dog earing the pages (which is like nails on a chalkboard to me). These are all wonderful attributes associated with the act of reading a physical book, and I applaud along with you. But let's not forget--these are the trappings of reading, and not the "stuff" of reading.

In my work, we produce the books themselves. And we also produce the dust jackets that wrap around the books (which have an expected life span of roughly three days after purchase). The cloth covers that go on these books—the "casesides," we call them—are often simple constructions of cardboard, glue, and fabric or paper. It's the dust jackets where all the embellishments—the foil stamping and embossing and die cuts and spot glosses—are put. 

The dust jacket presents all the lush trappings one associates with a bestselling book. But don't forget—the book is inside the dust jacket. Don't ever confuse the two.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dye Another Day

It's not uncommon, we all know, for people to dye their hair as the gray comes in. But I've been pondering the thorny question--once you start, how do you stop?

I mean, you live--day after day--with your dyed hair presenting a particular look to the world. True, there are some who change shades as readily as a chameleon on a tartan scarf. But these are typically people who are "dying" to make a statement--"I'm rebellious," or, "I'm unique," or "I lack any other gift for self expression."

I suppose I'm really thinking about those who dye to defy giving ground to the steady march of age. (Perhaps we could say they dye out of a fear of death.) Those who basically just aren't ready to show their gray.

It's perfectly understandable. A little gray at 32 says so much more that we'd rather leave unsaid than does, say, a full shock of white hair at 82 (which is apt to have all the cue ball octogenarians green with envy, which is a small comfort).

But where does the tipping point come? When do you reach the point where you say, "Enough's enough already--my hair is gray and not midnight as you all thought." Some might say that tipping point comes when you're simply not fooling anyone any longer. But that overlooks the simple fact we dye to fool ourselves more than others.

An example. When I was in grade school, I had a math teacher who was ancient. (There's really no other word to use--she was so ancient, she had taught other teachers at that same school that we thought were really old!) Now, I shall not name her here, in part out of fear she's still alive in some fashion, possibly climbing out of the crypt for a daily lesson in multiplicative inverses. But the point is, this truly ancient woman--I mean, she knew Archimedes personally--had a head of bright red hair. And probably had that same shade of red hair from the time she built the Parthenon until the day she . . . well . . . died.

Clearly, she never reached that moment of clarity that led her to say, "Nuts, who am I kidding?" and toss the bottle of dye out. Is it possible she found herself several years on the far side of that moment and thought, "Well, if I stop now I'll just be an old woman who's stopped trying." (Do we, in our feeble shell of ego, associate "dying" with "trying?")

So, I shall set this topic aside for my future article to be no doubt picked up by Vogue or More or some such periodical. I shall research--asking my friends, hairdressers, friends' hairdressers, and those who've already passed over to the gray side. When does the point come where one does say--where one should say--"Enough. I will not dye another day."