"Ring bell, hard to tell/If anything is goin' to sell"

As someone who appreciates good marketing, I can't help but admire the creative team (the British Ten4 Design) behind this promo for Bob Dylan's new album. The irony of using a clip from a classic film (D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back) that portrayed Dylan as an iconoclast who wasn't "gonna work on Maggie's farm no more" is not lost on me. But this is so clever and the toy is so much fun that I can't be cynical about it. (Watch the original "Subterranean Homesick Blues" clip from Don't Look Back here)

The new album, the 3-CD Dylan: His Greatest Songs, will be released October 1st. Letting you know this and linking to the promo is exactly what the record marketing people want me to do, of course. And they know I will. That's why it's such good marketing. Go ahead. Enjoy!

Geesh, I'm such a shill for The Man.


Quick Long-Stitch Journal

I've carried a notebook/journal with me for as long as I can remember. It's a place to write down a book passage that I want to remember, or jot down the name of a book that a friend recommends, or to list my to-dos. For over a year now I've been making my own. I love the feeling of writing in a handmade book, especially one I've made myself.

I keep these books fairly small, usually no larger than 4" x 6", and the bindings pretty simple. Most of the time I make a double-pamphlet book. This time I used what I call a criss-cross long-stitch binding. I glued together two complementary papers of card-stock weight paper -- the paper has a distressed look. To keep the book closed, I used an elastic band I found in my sewing box. Then I hand-sewed a button on the front cover and voila! (or "viola!" as one of my friends says.)


Caterpillar, Centipede

My book arts posts seem to be living in a twilight zone that moves much more slowly than real time. This post is about a three-day class I took more than a month ago with book artist Dan Essig at BookWorks. The avowed purpose of the class was to learn the centipede stitch (a/k/a the caterpillar stitch), but the stitch was only the final touch in the thoroughly enjoyable process of creating our books. (That's one of Dan's books at top right.)

We spent the first morning learning the stitch and making a sewing card. We were working with wood, and for the next day-and-a-half we drilled, distressed, painted (with milk paint) and sanded and burnished our mahogany covers. On the final day of class, we sewed our books with a Greek Coptic binding. We finished by drilling our holes for the centipede, and stitching it in. The Greek Coptic binding is one I hadn't done before, and it's quite beautiful, adding real strength and stability to the book.

Dan demonstrated the techniques with both hand tools and small power tools. He's incredibly precise about techniques and measurements in everything he does, and he explains why he's doing what he's doing. I always appreciate this, because understanding the reasons behind the actions helps me decide what I might change to make the book more my own. I gravitated to the hand tools, which I felt gave me greater control. No doubt, with practice, the power tools would feel just as comfortable and prove faster and more efficient, but since I'll be making wooden books only occasionally, I'll opt for the simplicity and lower cost of the hand tools.

This is the third class I've taken with Dan, and I'll be taking another in October -- we'll make a papyrus book in that one. You may have seen some of his work in the The Penland Book of Handmade Books (that's Dan's book on the cover, right), which if you don't have, you must buy immediately. His books are true works of art. In addition to these, he creates sculptural pieces that incorporate books and paper, but as a secondary rather than a primary element. Locally, he exhibits lat Ariel Gallery (check out some of his work at Ariel here).

Drilling holes in the covers

Various hand tools

Painting covers with milk paint -- outside!

Couldn't resist the colors of waxed linen thread

The Greek Coptic binding on my book, almost done

The painted, sanded, burnished, bound book, minus the centipede

Drilling the hole to insert the peg that will be part of the closure

One of my classmates using the electric drill press to fashion a peg for the closure

My finished book. You can see that I've fudged a bit. If you look at Dan's book at the top of the post, you'll notice that his centipede runs across the spine. Because I was short on time, I chose to stop my centipede at the spine after the front cover and resume it on the back cover. I have a set of wooden covers awaiting my next effort.

Another of Dan's books, this one with headbands over and around the covers at the top and bottom

My friend Priscilla with her almost-finished book


"The Case of the Vanishing Book Review"

There's an amusing report by James Marcus of a recent panel discussion, sponsored by the Columbia Journalism Review, on the state of print-media book reviews. Posting in his blog, House of Mirth, Marcus tweaks all of the participants equally , from Steve Wasserman espousing his views on the "anti-intellectualism" of Americans, to Elizabeth Sifton's (former editor at 3 major publishing houses) death-knell comment that "books [are] no longer central to print culture."

Wasserman, a literary agent and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, suggested that the spate of commentary on the cut-backs in book review pages has been way too nostalgic: "There was never a Golden Age of Book Reviewing.... It was always a sideshow, even at the newspapers that chose to support it." The CJR, he noted, gave him the opportunity "to natter about this problem at great length" in a recent article, in which he wrote:
"It is through the work of novelists and poets that we understand how we imagine ourselves and contend with the often elusive forces--of which language itself is a foremost factor--that shape us as individuals and families, citizens and communities, and it is through our historians and scientists, journalists and essayists that we wrestle with how we have lived, how the present came to be, and what the future might bring....if you want to reduce crime, teach your children to read. Civilization is built on a foundation of books."
In sharp contrast, here's the close of Marcus's report, in which he describes a portion of the Q&A that followed the panel discussion:
"The climax: a 22-year-old Columbia student declared that nobody in his generation read any books, hence the very idea of reading a book review section was "an absurdity." In fact, he continued, he and his peers didn't even watch television, because every time they turned on the tube there was a story about Iraq. (What about Entourage?) Half the audience must have been wondering whether this guy was a plant: a cautionary figure in tennis shoes, a glimpse into the radiant future. Dude, if you’re reading this, text me right away and let us know you were kidding."

You can learn more about the vanishing book review, and how you can make your views known, at the National Book Critics Circle Campaign to Save Book Reviews.


Tiny Tots

Jerome Weeks' Book/Daddy blog is one of BookGirl's regular destinations on the Web. Anyone whose blog photo depicts three large clocks, one whose time is set for East Egg and another for West Egg (the third is on Narnia time) is worthy of BookGirl's attention, and not only for the Fitzgerald reference.

It seems that we also share a liking for Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Actually, mine is a bit more than a liking. In addition to two copies of the book, one of which is an early edition that was a gift from my husband (such a man is clearly a keeper), I own a large poster of the ill-fated tots. I used to display said poster prominently in the front hall of my apartment, which didn't scare off that same man, who was just getting to know me then. It's a particular delight that one of the unfortunate children bears my name (no, not BookGirl, silly!)

Anyway, Book/Daddy has a post with a video of The GTs from YouTube, one of many interpretations. After watching it, I visited YouTube and found one that I liked better. Here are both of them. The first is my selection; the second is Book/Daddy's.


Architecture's Turn

If you read this blog from time to time, you know that I've posted about newspapers' cutbacks in book criticism (including here and here and here). Among major metropolitan dailies, the main reason for the cutbacks is the firing (or "buyouts") of the papers' book critics, many of them highly-respected and of long standing. But I've also made it clear that it's not only book coverage that's dwindling; the trend is toward the diminution of arts coverage in general.

Among the recent casualties is the architecture critic at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Linda Mack. Architecture magazine reports that Avista Capital Partners, a New York investment firm, bought the Star Tribune for $530 million in December "and has been trimming staff ever since."

Although newspapers' architecture critics cover work beyond their own geographic borders, they provide an invaluable perspective on what is essentially a local art form. In the article, Mack celebrates [the Twin Cities'] "unbelievable cultural-arts boom. I got to cover Cesar Pelli's public library here, Jean Nouvel's Guthrie Theater, Herzog & de Meuron's Walker Art Center—I had a great run."

I can't speak to the situation in the Twin Cities, but I've had reason to value good local coverage of architecture in other large cities experiencing major growth. Beth Dunlop, an award-winning architecture writer, was The Miami Herald's architecture critic when I lived in Miami. Her understanding of South Florida's history and cultural climate, combined with her deep knowledge of architecture, gave her a perspective that would have been difficult for any writer from outside the area to match. Not only did The Herald's readers benefit, she also generated necessary and important dialogue about public buildings in the community.

Speaking to Architect magazine, Claude Peck, the Star Tribune's fine arts editor, said that "arts and metro reporters are now covering architecture as best we can." We all know what that means. Mack is now freelancing. Let's hope the Star Tribune at least has the smarts to make use of her services occasionally.

Note: In an interesting trend reversal, Beth Dunlop is again The Miami Herald's architecture critic, after serving in that role from 1979 - 1993. Here's a recent story, about the Orange Bowl stadium.


Beautiful Libraries

For those of us who love libraries, Curious Expeditions has a treat: a series of photographs of some of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Pictured are more than 50 libraries-to-die-for, from the Trinity College Library in Dublin (above) to the Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, "possibly the most beautiful library of them all." Enjoy!

(This came to my attention through correspondence on the Book Arts ListServ, an offshoot of the wonderful Book Arts Web.)


Doing and Starting

I've been working for the last couple of days on a mock-up of a book that I hoped to make by Friday for an upcoming exhibit at BookWorks. I absolutely, positively needed to do a prototype because I wanted to use some new techniques with photos and acrylics that I'd never tried before. I didn't like how my experiment turned out, although now I have a much better idea of what NOT to do and how to get a better result next time. But making the "real" book the right way is going to take considerably longer than the couple of days I'd allocated, so I'm going to turn in a book for the exhibit that I made earlier this summer.

So now there's nothing that I HAVE to do in the studio over the next couple of days.
But since I'd left that time open, I thought: "Well, I could start the new book, or finish the one I started last month or try that new structure I've been looking at..." To which I replied: "Ha!"

A little later, I saw a quote on Roben-Marie Smith's blog, Every Life Has a Story:
"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action." -- Frank Tibolt
and stopped to think how often I stay out of my studio because I have no pressing idea for a specific project and no looming deadline. I know that, as Woody Allen said, "80% of success is showing up" (not quite as good as what most people think he said: "90% of life is showing up."), but it's still difficult to get my foot in the (studio) door, so to speak.

My lonely worktable in my empty studio

Now, deadlines -- real deadlines are great, and I'm good at rallying to the cause. But I'm not one of those who can use artificial deadlines as a motivator. "Whom are you kidding?" , I always wonder when someone suggests this to me. You know it's a fake deadline, so why would you take it seriously?
(actually, I say "Who are you kidding?," but BookGirl, an English major, always knows when she's speaking ungrammatically.)

A better approach, I think, if you have no actual deadlines in sight, is to get your friends to agree to exchange stuff: handmade books, ATCs, prints -- whatever. And set a deadline. This usually does the trick, since I'm embarrassed to be the one who doesn't hold up her end of the bargain. The larger the number of people participating, the more embarrassing it is opt out. It doesn't work for me to do this with only one other person, since it's too easy to call on that one person's sympathy with sad tale about one's dog (BookPuppy) having eaten one's book.

The other thing you can do is to take a class. Somehow paying good money to have someone assign for homework exactly what I should have been doing on my own in the first place works wonders. Of course, it's depressing to think that I have such little self-discipline (and less money for art supplies after paying for the class), but BookGirl never expects life to be perfect.

Coincidentally, this wasn't the first quote I saw today about "doing" and "starting." Here's the other one:
"In fact, the ability to start out upon your own impulse is fundamental to the gift of keeping going upon your own terms, not to mention the further and more fulfilling gift of getting started all over again -- never resting upon the oars of success or in the doldrums of disappointment...Getting started, keeping going, getting started again -- in art and life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm." -- Seamus Heaney
I'm beginning to think that someone is trying to tell me something (insert theme from The Twilight Zone here). All in all, this is not a bad thing to be told, and certainly something I need to hear. Often. Maybe I'll go back into the studio tomorrow after all.


Quilts and Creative Community

My friend Carol kept mentioning a quilt exhibit that she wanted me to see at the community arts center near which she lives. We made a field trip there last Thursday, and I loved what I saw.

Each participating artist in the exhibit was asked to use a different vintage quilt as inspiration and reinterpret it in any way the artist chose -- color, shape, texture, theme, etc. The results are both interesting and beautiful. I've included photos of a few of the quilts here.

Quilting and textile crafts have a rich tradition in Western North Carolina (For example, Penland School of Crafts, which is now a national center for craft education, was founded in 1923 by teacher Lucy Morgan, who organized the Penland Weavers to provide looms and
materials to local women and to market their handwoven goods. She invited guest instructors to teach weaving, and when requests for instruction began to come from other parts of the country, Penland School was born.)

One of the exhibiting artists is Caroline Mannheimer, whom I met at BookWorks last year. Both of us are now students in a follow-up to a creative journaling class that each us of has taken there.
That's Caroline's lovely piece, Kiss Kiss, top right and directly below). One of my life's joys is regularly crossing paths with other members of this vital creative community, and the support and encouragement that's exchanged along the way.

Detail from Kiss Kiss. I love text in textiles!

Murray Johnston, Torn Loose and Wheeling Free

Detail, Torn Loose and Wheeling Free

Bets Ramsey, Star of Hope in a Time of War

Detail, Star of Hope in a Time of War

Jimmie Benedict, Scarlett O'Hara's Coat

Detail, Scarlett O'Hara's Coat

Susan Webb Lee, Log Cabin Remodel

Detail, Log Cabin Remodel

Friendship Quilt, 1851 (owned by Mary Sauerteig) This is one of the quilts used for inspiration. It was given to Mary Sauerteig's great-grandfather, Daniel Dobler, by students, relatives and friends upon his retirement from teaching in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Mary's grandfather, along with another of Daniel Dobler's sons, each provided one of the squares (see below)

Detail, Friendship Quilt, 1851


The Fiction Gender Gap

"A couple of years ago, British author Ian McEwan conducted an admittedly unscientific experiment. He and his son waded into the lunch-time crowds at a London park and began handing out free books. Within a few minutes, they had given away 30 novels.

"Nearly all of the takers were women, who were 'eager and grateful' for the freebies while the men 'frowned in suspicion, or distaste.' The inevitable conclusion, wrote McEwan in The Guardian newspaper: 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.'"

So begins Eric Weiner's story on NPR: Why Women Read More Than Men. This "fiction gender gap" is no news to booksellers, who point out that women customers head straight for the fiction section, and men to the nonfiction. And surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and the UK say that men account for only 20% of the fiction market.

Why? One of the more recent theories focuses on "mirror neurons" and cognitive scientists' observations that women are more empathetic than men:

"Located behind the eyebrows, these neurons are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch those same actions in others. Mirror neurons explain why we recoil when seeing others in pain, or salivate when we see other people eating a gourmet meal. Neuroscientists believe that mirror neurons hold the biological key to empathy."

It turns out that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why fiction, which requires readers to emphasize with characters, appeals more to women.

"'Reading, requires incredible patience, and the ability to 'feel into' the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men,'" says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain."

Any men out there disagree?

Thanks to Book/Daddy for the lead.


My First Exhibit (Yikes!)

Late last year, I joined our regional Book Salon, a group of artists working in the book form. I learned about it at BookWorks, our terrific local book arts studio and learning center. I'm delighted to be counted among these talented and generous artists who share my passion for book arts.

For the second year, the members of the Book Salon have been invited to participate in an exhibit at The Design Gallery, in the charming town of Burnsville, neighbor to the Penland School of Crafts. Both years, the timing of the exhibit has coincided with Burnsville's annual Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. The festival will be held the weekend of September 14-15; the book exhibit runs through the end of September. The theme for both: "Roots and Wings" ("
Good parents give their children Roots and Wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them." -- Jonas Salk).

This is the first time I've shown one of my books. To say that I was nervous about exhibiting my work is an understatement. I've been making books for less than 18 months, although my serious interest in the book as an art form started at least a year before that. My love of books in general, of course, is an incurable lifelong condition.

So let's just say that when i walked into the gallery for the opening reception
last Friday evening and heard that my book had sold, I was just the teensiest, tiniest bit excited (ha!). Just a titch. I'm still over the moon.

I began the book, Take Wing, with the premise that a journal should be special but not precious. I've seen too many journals (and bought a few myself) that seem too elegant and "important" to write in. For me, art is as much in the personal and the commonplace as in the universal and the extraordinary. So I mixed fine elements, such as handmade cover papers and Italian text paper, with humble materials such as muslin cloth and locally-produced mica. I'm pleased with the result, and glad to think that it pleased the buyer, and that it will serve its purpose.

There are some truly beautiful books in the exhibit, and I've included just a few in this post. I'll be back at the gallery later in the month to take more photos and post those images here. What impressed me most -- and I should be used to this by now -- was the diversity of the offerings. Not one book in the exhibit is like any other there. Each book is as unique as the artist who created it.

Take Wing

The image of the birds is an inkjet transfer onto muslin layered under a piece of mica

In addition to the traditional text block papers, I included graph paper, dictionary pages and "holey" card-stock-weight computer paper

Moe Hoxie's beautiful "kimono" book

A lovely journal, using embroidery on paper, by Annie Fain Liden

Continuity, a wonderfully sculptural "slinky" book by Carol Norby