Forgotten Souls, Neglected Skins

Today I am sharing a piece I wrote for my Creative Non-Fiction Writing class.  Enjoy!

Few are aware that I am an active member of a relatively unknown Resistance. Depending on the tasks needed, I’m a doctor, a repairwoman, an artist, a conservationist. But generally speaking, I’m a protector of a dying art.

I’m a bookbinder, you see. And I’m involved in the work of preserving books.

I entered the Resistance at an essential time. The rise of e-books and factory-made paperbacks manufactured with “perfect binding” have become a market for selling information, rather than a community for sharing art. Yet, this is not a new Resistance by any means. I find myself echoing Herbert P. Horne who publicly attacked the binding techniques of the 1890s and accused the ‘modern’ binders of producing second-rate souls that fall apart more often than they stay together. My outcries are much the same. I am disgusted by the way the bookselling industry has taken an ancient practice and replaced it with cut pages sloppily kept together in a flimsy paperback skin using an excess of glue that loses its flexibility before the soul has a chance to leave the factory. Considering that half the joy of books is in their construction, there can be little wonder as to why media has moved to centre-stage.  

 Luckily, the greatest enemy to our Resistance also becomes one of our greatest allies. There is now widespread awareness of our Resistance’s work in today’s age of media platforms that have begun to favour the creative, behind-the-scenes processes of art and craftsmanship. We are fortunate to be mid-swing in the pendulum away from the mass-produced and toward the handcrafted. But with the swing comes transparency, and I fear the public’s reaction to the harsh techniques I must employ in my work.

Often, the poor souls I am tasked with repairing come into my workshop with a simple page loose from its binding. But I cannot simply glue the page back in for more pages will come loose, and they will drop like the leaves of a tree in a burst of sudden autumn. These repairs require refinement like that through fire. I must undo all done to the soul in the “perfect binding” process before the real repair can begin. It is a painful, but necessary liberation.

On more encouraging days, I am called in as a doctor to heal. I flip through the worn pages of a Bible. I am lured in by the words of wisdom and Gospel illuminated with pen and highlighter.The Bibles I’ve encountered are always meticulously crafted so that Herbert and I can both be proud. The crimes committed against these books are their daily use, a crime that is hardly wicked. I reattach skins by replacing the gauze-like material that connects spine to cover. I remove unintentional creases by sprinkling water onto the page, tickling the paper into stretching out. I stitch the seams of ripped pages, reuniting them with their folded siblings. I splint up wounded and broken spines. I bring the broken back to health.

Another of my tasks is the art of altered bookbinding. But I won’t deceive you. It is the task of destruction.

There are books in our digital-obsessed world whose pages have not been opened for decades. These are books that rot in the open graves of landfills because they have lost the irrelevancy in a world that has moved to a new edition or because their soul is considered unreadable in a cultural moment that can only swallow list-formatted information. Is it only our Resistance who remembers the moments of history when disposing of books like this was a way for tyranny to flourish, a way to try to stamp out Truth? I save those condemned books. But I cannot simply reintroduce them to the world in their unwanted state. I must disguise them.

So I take upon myself the painful task of separating soul from skin. From the soul of the book I remove words, I paint the pages, I write over the story. I breathe new life into tired narratives the world has abandoned. I create poetry.

I create a new soul for the skin of disowned books. A blank soul that is ready to be matched with another soul. A human soul. Ready to spill the “breathings of [their] heart” with ink. I am in the business of destruction in order that I might conserve that which has been abandoned.

I’m part of an active Resistance. I’m a bookbinder, you see. I’m a protector of an art kept alive by humans who care enough to remember, and humans who want to see a renaissance ofsoul-filled books.

*Quotation by William Wordsworth

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