Sunday, January 21, 2018

It might be possible to be *too* kind to an old book

"Japanese Craftsman Masterfully Restores Old Book into Like-New Condition"
is an interesting 2015 post by My Modern Met's Sara Barnes. The article itself was given new life when it was shared into my Facebook feed last week. It details the restoration of a "tattered" English-Japanese dictionary, as featured on a Japanese show (not sure whether it's TV or YouTube) called Shuri, Bakaseru.1

Tweezers and irons and something ominously called a "guillotine book cutter" are used to give the book a fresh look ... and it all left me kind of disturbed. On Facebook, I commented:
"I have mixed feelings. This is a beautiful job. Some of this, though, is part of the book's inherent character, and I think that's been lost. I would have done the rebinding and the page ironing, but maybe left the purple-stained edges and not used the guillotine book cutter."
And then Brendan D. Strasser, owner of the Saucony Book Shop2 in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, posted a comment that I think should be shared and preserved. It dovetails with my sentiments in a much more eloquent fashion:
"Hmmm ... Admittedly, I've repaired my share of books over the years, typically to eliminate minor issues such as dog-eared leaves, stressed or broken bindings, cracked hinges, that sort of thing. I use archival-grade (acid-neutral) glues and tapes, Japanese paper, etc. When a book is too badly damaged to be usable or too ugly to be resold but commands some interest due to subject matter or scarcity, I'll have it rebound mainly because the only alternative is to pitch it into the ashbin, but I'll use as much as I can of the original binding -- mounting the original cloth over the new binding when appropriate. But I tend to want to retain ownership marks and usage wear, and there's something almost unsettling about a pristine copy of a 'used' book. The antiquarian world is filled with trophy hunters looking for flawless copies of century-old first editions, and I do my best to avoid that whole scene. I have books in my personal library that I keep primarily because of their wear and use: marginal notations, drawings on the endpapers, etc. In fact, I have a shelf of books that probably nobody else would ever want to own; I call them 'books once probably owned by madmen.' This restoration shown here appears so extreme that many booksellers might assume this copy to be an undesignated facsimile reprint of the original edition."
What are your thoughts on this topic, Papergreat readers?

1. So, if you're following the chain of communication...
  • 1. Original source of content: Japanese show Shuri, Bakaseru
  • 2. Summarized in April 2015 post on My Modern Met
  • 3. My Modern Met link shared onto Facebook on January 16, 2018, by
  • 4. post shows up in my Facebook feed.
  • 5. And from there to Papergreat.
This was just one of many possible paths. Multiple news sites "aggregated" the Shuri, Bakaseru book restoration in 2015 and I'm sure it's show up in a million possible iterations on Facebook, some sourced properly and some not sourced properly, in a digital game of Telephone.
2. The Saucony Book Shop has this advertising pitch on its website: "Chockablock with the Quaint, the Curious, and the Utterly Obscure." If you're interested in checking them out, however, please note that their barn-turned-bookstore is only open by appointment and occasionally "by chance" from April through November. Also: "We make no attempt to be a general-service book shop. Our inventory is highly selective, individually chosen with discerning readers and collectors in mind from among the hundreds of thousands of books to which we have access annually at auctions, library and estate sales, and through individual scouts and vendors. We do not handle material that does not meet our expectations in terms of condition or interest to our specialized, idiosyncratic customers."