Monday, March 11, 2013


read the fine print

At a little library book sale this winter I picked up several 1980s back issues of a beautiful magazine, Fine Print: The Review for the Arts of the Book.  I paid a dollar each - I couldn't not buy them - and last week I finally sat down and browsed through them all, and what a pleasure it was.  It's a lovely oversize quarterly, published on Mohawk Letterpress paper, with impeccable printing, interesting ads, and even more interesting content on all things book arts.  Book reviews for trade books, fine press offerings, and broadsides, editorials, reissues of printing landmarks, articles on typography and typographers, wow. The calendar of events makes me wish I could time-travel.      

After that paean, I can't help but share a sample.  In Volume 13 Number 3, from 1987, the catch-all editorial Shoulder Notes mentions that 1987 was designated by Congress as the Year of the Reader, and the nameless author of this piece (Fine Print editor and publisher Sandra Kirshenbaum?) goes on to say a few things about the apparent necessity of such a year.  I will quote at length because I find it enthralling:

"The problem, we are told, is not just the estimated 13 to 60 million true illiterates (up to 30 percent of the population) who would like desperately to learn to read, but are not capable or have not had the opportunity; the larger and more intractable problem for our society is the phenomenon of the millions more who are aliterates - those who are perfectly capable of reading, who have all the mental and visual equipment to read, but who choose, of their own free will, not to read ('too busy,' 'too boring,' 'books cost too much,' 'can't sit still that long,' etc.).

And what does this mean to you, dear reader of Fine Print, doubtless a member of several cozy working groups and clubs of book people, to whom life without books and reading is virtually unthinkable, to whom every year is a year of reading and more reading?  You may well yawn with indifference at this artificial declaration of any special year for the reader (and let us stop kidding - they mean a year of concern for the non-reader).  Why should we the fit, we the saved, we the readers, care a fig, or even a leaf, for the aliterate, much less spend an entire year keening and fussing and developing programs to entice them into the beatific reading state?

If you can't think of any reasons, just retreat back into your book-lined room, take a volume from the shelf, and savor the feeling that comes when the meanings communicated by specially arranged groups of LETTERFORMS strike on those brain receptors for idea and image - a direct hit from the author's mind to yours, with no interference, no interpretation, no programming of selections, no colorization by outside agents, whether cinematic, videographic, or electronic.  Retreat, and read..."

This from 1987!  Before the en masse home invasion of the personal computer!  So many have been bemoaning the downfall of books and reading for so long. The rest of us have just been... well... reading.  Blissed out.  Suspended in that beatific reading state.

By the way, the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia has various back issues of this lovely publication for sale.  Take a look.

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