Shelf Awareness reports on 30 October on the finding of a gun in a hollowed-out copy of Robert Stone’s Outerbridge Reach which had been presented to the PorterCounty Library in Indiana. “A staff member at the Valparaiso branch discovered the weapon, but Phyllis Nelson, assistant library director, said they have no way of knowing who donated the book, since thousands are received each month and no records are kept. The Times of Northwest Indiana noted that “police have determined the gun was not stolen.”
A bookseller in Glasgow is displaying Lance Armstrong’s memoir with a sticker proclaiming it fiction.
I’m really sad about the Lance Armstrong saga. I love to watch the Tour de France on television — it’s like a beautiful travelogue with a tactically fascinating race going on at the same time. It’s utterly amazing that these guys can do what they do — and I am not sure how I feel about the fact that some of them take unauthorized substances to help out. Lance Armstrong was such a cool rider. He’d pounce at the exact right moment, and annihilate the competition. His tactical sense has nothing to do with drugs, though I guess we have to accept that the drugs must have enabled him to execute the tactics. Still so many of his competitors have already been disgraced because of proven drugging, that in a weird way the unfairness turned into an even competition.
Today Google’s shares lost $2 billion in value before trading was suspended. The reason was the premature release via email of Google’s quarterly results (below expectations). The obviously unfinished release began with the words PENDING LARRY QUOTE.
R. R. Donnelly says they are “fully engaged in an investigation to determine how this took place and are pursuing our first obligation — which is to serve our valued customer”.
Paper companies are working hard to be greener all the time. Almost all belong to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and plant as many trees as they harvest. But just replacing trees isn’t the only issue. The following somewhat harsh piece comes from the blog Dead Tree Edition (deadtreeedition.blogspot.com).
- An Environmental Protection Agency study of a former paper Montana paper mill found “potentially dangerous levels of dioxins, heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals,” according to the Missoulian. The results could lead to the former Smurfit Stone property becoming a Superfund site, as well as concerns about what would happen if a levee on the property failed.
- The site of an abandoned paper mill in Tennessee has been proposed as a Superfund site because of PCB and dioxin contamination.
- A trial began this week on charges that a lawyer duped buyers of a New York paper mill by not disclosing it had been declared a Superfund site. (Are you noticing a pattern here?)
- International Paper received regulatory approval for an extensive upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant at itsBogalusa, LA mill. A failure of the plant under previous ownership last year caused a discharge of black liquor, an especially nasty and infamous pulp byproduct, killing hundreds of thousands of fish and fouling the Pearl River.
- A power outage last week at a Glatfelter mill in Pennsylvania caused the release of 6,000 gallons of pulp and contaminated water into a nearby stream.
Regardless of how it sources its fiber, can a paper company be considered green if it fouls waterways, spews high levels of toxins and greenhouse gases into the air, uses carcinogenic additives, or reveals as little as possible about its environmental impact? No, not when there are competitors using best practices to minimize emissions, operating mills that are nearly carbon neutral, switching to safer materials, and going way beyond what the law requires in reporting their environmental practices and measurements.
I like them. Knopf does it a lot. As the story below, from The Economist‘s website, shows lots of people think deckle edges are a defect. Now, it is a truth universally acknowledged that if book buyers don’t really want a book they have bought, there are multitudinous “excuses” they will dream up in order to return it for credit. (Obviously the world out there doesn’t know that book publishers often seem more eager to accept a return than they are to force the book on you in the first place!) We’ve all experienced books being rejected for all sorts of silly reasons. Unfortunately it begins to appear that electronic retailers are joining in the silliness too. Hey, we love our books, so just send them on back.
GO TO your bookshelf, assuming you have one, and pull out a hardcover book. Is the cut edge smooth? Try another until you spot rough-edged pages. Now ask yourself: does this book impress you more than others with trimmed pages, or does it seem defective? Some of Amazon’s customers clearly think the latter, to judge by a note found on the bookseller’s pages for books with this “feature”.
An artefact of bygone days, the “deckle edge” is part of the modern fetishisation of the past, much as Instagram glorifies the 1970s snapshot camera. An artefact that might have annoyed the makers of the day turns into a trait intended to evoke the whole experience and emotion associated with the original, but without any of the baggage.
The deckle edge was unavoidable until the 19th century, a byproduct of the papermaking process. Since it became unnecessary, the rough edge gradually turned into a status symbol. Advertisements for books in the late 1800s are rife with mentions of a “deckle edge” alongside the fine paper on which a title was printed. But even that aspect has begun to fade as modern book buyers do not know what to make of it.
Paper begins as a suspension of fibres in a water slurry that is drained through a screen. A frame temporarily placed around the screen to restrain the mixture in place is known as a deckle. A papermaker lifts the deckle after draining sufficient water and before pressing the paper with felt and continuing the process to a finished sheet.
The deckle cannot make a perfect seal against the screen, and fibres seep under its edge, which creates the rough-edged pattern. Before the era of continuously produced paper, which began with the invention in the early 1800s of the so-called Fourdrinier machine, all paper had a deckle edge. That edge could be trimmed or not. Sarah Werner of the Folger Shakespeare Library says there appears to be no rhyme or reason in the books she has examined as to why one might be shorn of roughness while another reveals the papermaking process. Timothy Barrett, an expert on historical papermaking at the University of Iowa agrees. He says the fashion for deckle edges has waxed and waned, though the edges were mostly trimmed.
The deckle edge is entirely separate from, and sometimes confused with, the roughness that occurs when a book is bound with “unopened” pages (often inaccurately called “uncut”). A reader used a paperknife to slit those pages, which result from leaving the folded printed sheets intact. There also appears to be no systematic rule as to why some books had unopened pages and others did not.
The Fourdrinier machine removed the deckle edge. It made paper cheap to mass-produce, which in turn led to higher production runs of books and newspapers. (In a historical quirk, the French Revolution led its Gallic inventors to patent and build the original machine in Britain.) Paper was rolled out continuously using an ingenious series of loops of mesh screens and felt. A final stage typically trimmed the deckle edge, which the process had all but eliminated in any case, and the roll was cut into sheets. Presses that could feed continuous rolls or “webs” of paper came later, ushering in mass printed media.
Over time, the deckle edge transformed from a cost-cutting measure, in which leaving it in place was cheaper than removing it, into a sign that a book was made from more expensive paper or using a more refined method. Your correspondent spent his teens and twenties in the printing and book worlds, and even as late as the 1990s a sniffiness prevailed about sheet-printed books versus those printed on continuous presses, a similar vestige. Babbage also recalls buying hard-cover books in cheap book-club editions in which the deckle edge was a must, to try to offset the impression made by poor paper quality, binding and printing.
The modern deckle edge is cut by a machine that scarifies the edges of a book in an ostensibly random—and rather pretty—fashion. In 1948 Dard Hunter, a paper historian, noted that the Eynsford Mill in England, for example, produced “genuine handmade, imitation handmade, and Fourdrinier machine-made”, each appealing to the differing needs of publishers and printing firms.
But the significance of the edge may be lost on many modern readers. This may represent success by Amazon, Costco and others to discount hard-cover titles enough to sell them to an audience that would previously wait for a paperback edition. (Hard-cover books have higher margins, and publishers try to recoup most of the costs in the hard-cover run. Paperbacks appear later, if demand warrants.)
Amazon’s note is meant to reassure buyers disturbed by a deckle edge that the artifact is not a flaw. Ironically, making a book dearer by design seems to have made it appear damaged in the eyes of readers who lack the supposed sophistication to appreciate the fakery of a handmade past.
The Book Industry Guild of New York meeting on 9 October was about education for publishing. This is my report on the meeting:
This meeting was a lot more exciting than you would have expected, and those who stayed away missed a treat.
Our three panelists, Andrea Chambers, Director, Center for Publishing, New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Lindy Hess, Director, Columbia Publishing Course, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and Jane Kinney-Denning, Professor and Director of Internships and Corporate Outreach, Pace University, spoke openly and engagingly about their work. Under the light rein of moderator Damon Zucca, they told us how they got into the business of educating publishers (by chance and good fortune it almost seems), described the course offerings they provide, which cover both book and magazine publishing, and discussed with an engaged audience many issues surrounding their work. The message that emerged was that of the two strands of education for publishing (recent graduates seeking to enter the industry, and more experienced publishing staff seeking to broaden their skill sets) the second offered much to think about to those who were lucky enough to be there. Andrea Chambers reported that 48% of their recent interns had “graduated” to a full-time position at the publishing houses where they were interning — they had the skills which set them apart from their competitors. It probably behoves all of us to consider the importance of retooling our careers in these times of change. There are of course costs involved, but it’s not just the full course that’s available: a specific course on one aspect of the business over a weekend is a manageable option, and many courses are available on-line.
When I started in publishing the tendency was to hire smart people, tell them as little as possible, and assume they’d figure it out. It sort of worked in those low(er) pressure days. I was surprised after the meeting to find that I now think training is important. I would recommend to everyone who is worried about the future of book publishing to do a course or two on digital publishing. You’ve got to adjust.
The UK has an organization called The Publishing Training Centre. Visit it here.
Later: This link will take you to Open Road Media’s account of The Best Publishing Programs in the US.