Sunday June 18, 2017

Turning the page: the future of the printed book

Author Merilyn Simonds' use of old letterpress printing technology, changed the way she thinks of the book.

Author Merilyn Simonds' use of old letterpress printing technology, changed the way she thinks of the book.

Listen 15:41

What do we mean today when we refer to  a book?

360 Merilyn Simonds

Merilyn Simonds

Merilyn Simonds's latest book, Gutenberg's Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books, explores that question by looking at the history and the evolving future of the book.  

Gutenberg's Fingerprint also tells the story of the making of one of Merilyn's books, The Paradise Project, as both a handmade letterpress book and as a digital book.

That story involves some intriguing, real-life characters: Hugh Barclay is the owner and operator of Thee Hellbox Press, with his very own hand-operated antique letterpress. Merilyn's son is Erik developing the digital edition.

But Gutenberg's Fingerprint is not a story about digital books vs print books: Merilyn believes they really can live happily together.

A full transition to digital will take quite some time, she believes.

"When you think of other huge shifts in communication, like the shift from scrolls to books, that took 1000 years."  

360 paper book

The letterpress version produced by Hugh Barclay.

 Merilyn came to realize that ultimately how a story is delivered doesn't really matter. Recently she was in Charlottetown, where there was a book campaign including buttons with the slogan, "Where Would We Be Without Books?"

"I think what they really mean is where would we be without reading. And even more deeply, what they really, really mean is where would we be without stories?"

Still, Merilyn writes that Hugh Barclay and his antique letterpress version of her book taught her that "the solid form of language isn't writing, it's ink." 

Holding a letterpress printed page of her book for the first time was a wonder, she says.

"It made words concrete for me in a way that I had never really felt them before."