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Bookmaking 101

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."

-Jorge Luis Borges


There's something about books. Stories of any kind are wonderful for many reasons, and I certainly enjoy listening to Podcasts as much as anyone, but there's just something about holding a book in your hands. Feeling the cover and turning the page is a tactile experience that is so very unique and satisfying. And if you've ever held a well-crafted book, you know that the feeling can be elevated even further. But what makes one book better than another? I'm talking about the build of the book, the materials chosen and the construction technique used. Let's take a deeper look at how books are made and why some just feel better.

The early history of bookmaking generally starts with early scrolls. With information being written on long pieces of paper, carrying and storing them meant that they had to be folded or rolled up. This obviously made it difficult to search for useful information inside the "book" without unfolding or unrolling the entire thing. The led to the development of writing, and later printing, information on pages of what we would recognize in the modern world as a book.

To protect the pages of these books, wooden boards were affixed on either side of the stack of paper. It wasn't long before these wooden covers were adorned with various materials that would help folks identify the contents and carry the pages safely from one place to another without the paper being damaged. The most common material used was leather, and I feel that it is still the ideal cover material. Holding a linen book cover is quite nice too, but nothing compares to a leather book in my opinion!

During the same time, the paper used was changing. New papermaking techniques were developed in China and also the Roman Empire. The paper and the cover can have a lot to do with the aesthetic feel of the final book; one could argue as much as the contents of the book itself! One minor detail that can make a huge difference in the overall feel of a book when turning the page is a deckled edge. A "deckle" is a wooden frame that holds the paper in place while it dries. After the paper is removed from the frame, it leaves this wonderfully uneven edge that is a surefire sign that the paper was handmade. And it's extremely satisfying to run one's finger along it.

Whenever we shop for furniture and other antique accessories in France, I always find myself drawn to leatherbound books. Regardless of their contents, I feel their decorative quality is enough to fall in love with them. Luckily, they often contain fascinating information as well! My favorites are always science books, like this edition of Le Monde et La Science from the 1900s. The scientific diagrams are especially intriguing and the covers are simply wonderful with their proto-Art-Deco vibe.

If paradise is a library, it is well-stocked with leatherbound books of all colors and styles. I'll end with some images of breathtaking libraries that just may be a piece of heaven. Thanks for reading!

posted on 5/17/2021