A Book Binder’s Tale

   There is more to being a bibliophile than just the love of a good story. It is the entire experience of a book. It is the warm feeling that consumes you as you step into a bookstore flooded with the possibilities of where your next book will take you. Little precious portals sitting on neatly stacked shelves, they are unassuming as your hands brush over their satin smooth spines. When your book searching spider fingers pause at a title and pulls it from the shelf, it comes alive in your hands. You feel the smooth covers, the texture of the paper sticks to your fingers and an aroma of ink and glue fills the space between you and your next adventure. Books are the closest invention man has come to perfection. They were a concept that brewed for thousands of years, yet their design has not changed much. I believe that is part of their magic. When you hold a book you are holding an item that has held relevance for so long and connects us to our past. 



   When I was younger I read the book, “Inkheart” which sunk my heart into this love of books. As I read this story I could feel my brain swirl around it like a drain, slowly being pulled into its vortex. It was my rabbit hole, the one I fell into and flipped my world inside out yet right side up. Cornelia Funke spoke to every part of my love of books, 

   “If you take a book with you on a journey… an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it… yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”

― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

   “There was another reason [she] took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. They were familiar voices, friends that never quarreled with her, clever, powerful friends — daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had traveled far and wide.” 

― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

   In this book the main character’s father is a book binder. After reading the description of this character’s profession it danced in my head like a song playing on loop. I wanted his life more than anything. This passion waltzed in and out of my dreams and filled my heart with an ache. I was ten years old with an Alice kind of curiosity and a creativity that had just been lit in a new way and was ready to explode. I collected used materials from my last school project: foam board, construction paper and Elmer’s glue, and a piece of fabric from a miscellaneous craft drawer. I took the very book that inspired me, a book I carried around and read like a bible, with covers that were barely holding on and rebound it in fabric and foam core. Surprisingly, it worked! It wasn’t perfect but it looked kind of right so I considered it a success. I was so pleased I rebound three more books in this fashion.

  When you are young, adults are always asking you what you want to be when you grow up. My go to answer was, “I want to go to Yale University and be and Architect,” this was something I had copied from another girl who had said it and sounded like a good plan. The pleased reactions and small chuckles I received told me this answer was a crowd pleaser so I stuck to it. When I finally came to know what I truly wanted to be, I was filled with a feeling of accomplishment. I could answer this very complex question posed by so many with conviction. Before I could announce my discovery to the world I wanted to double check my work to make sure this answer was correct. I poked around and asked questions about how books are made today and came to the sad conclusion that there was no business for a book binder in modern society. I put this dream I had next to the books I had rebound on the bottom shelf. 



   In grade school, I was not the most social animal. I avoided most school events and spent most of my time skulking around the hallways like a melodramatic cat. I spent a lot of time in the library and the art room. I loved to read fiction and history, I would read about a time when books were bound by hand and about the groundbreaking invention of the Gutenberg Press. I loved to read stories of magical things, ancient histories and the Grimoires that kept these secrets. I also spent a lot of time creating things in the art room. These places were my sanctuary in a noisy school of people I couldn’t relate to. 



   When it came time to choose what I really wanted to be, because I was now grown up, I chose the closest thing to book production I believed I could do. If there was no place for book binders in the production of books I could at least design the images that brought books to life. I attended University of the Arts to study Illustration. I soon found that my University had bookbinding classes and that fire that had simmered to a small flame ignited again. I took all of the bookbinding classes I could and put one hundred percent of my energy into these elective courses. When I left school I was slightly lost again. It was no surprise that shortly after I entered ‘the real world’ I did not find happiness in a nine-to-five job. I was in the process of shifting from one job to another when I met someone who told me about a bookbinder in Philadelphia. If I was a dog my ears would have shot straight up, alert, my posture erect and my tail swinging pinwheels. My world spun around before my eyes and I was walking through the looking glass with no reservations. My childhood dream profession was real and there was someone in this modern world who was doing it. I reached out to the man who was living the life I so desperately wanted and begged him to let me apprentice under him. The stars were aligned for me the day he responded yes. This was the most wonderful gift happenstance could have given me. I live half of my life in books and the other half, surrounded by them. My house is filled to the brim as well as the studio in which I now work. Books that are old, new, antique, rare, fine, and sentimental surround me as I live the life I had once only thought existed in storybooks.

   “Books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.” 

― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

I still like to look back at the precious book that started it all…