Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory for Book Nerds

On Saturday, me and Count Chocula (my sugar-loving graphic designer boyfriend) headed to the Alcuin Wayzgoose print fair. In case you think I’ve started drinking in the mornings (as the only explanation for going to an event with goose in the title that didn’t involve barbeque sauce), allow me to clarify. For a number of reasons, this event was a must-see for this starry eyed publishing newbie:

  • I am a book nerd: the smell of linen paper and hot type is akin to crack. It’s what sends shivers up my neck to my librarian’s bob.
  • Hello? FREE.
  • What the hell is a Wayzgoose? This mystery just could not be left alone.

What we found tucked in the lower level of the Vancouver Public Library was a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory-esque experience for book nerds. I was able to use a letterpress, pressing the pedal with my foot to work that type baby (while also pretending that I was driving a model-T Ford). I saw linocuts made before my eyes sparkly with wonder, watched a woman marble paper, and saw gorgeous/outrageous sculptures made from old Danielle Steel magazines. Not to mention the sculpture of Sarah Palin’s memoir. The title page of her face had been strategically carved – the eyes and mouth hollow, and the entire book electrified and attached to a set of tweezers on a wire which the reader (me!) used to pull pieces from the carved-out facial features à la the game Operation.

This was total book euphoria. Likely the way an ADD kid feels when making his way through his Halloween candy. Halfway through the exhibitors, Count Chocula turned to me with concern. “Are you alright? You’re breathing pretty hard and your face is all flushed.” NOTE: These are also physical symptoms of a hypoglycaemic reaction, so brownie points to Chocula for noticing ;)

Basically, I had an out-of-body ecstatic experience – when my toes touched ground, my pupils had returned to normal size and I had two new unbelievably beautiful books to add to my cinderblock and 2 x 4 bookshelf.

Best of show? A massive volume of Tom Sawyer (by massive, I mean approx. 10 x 20!) with hand-cut type and a staggering number of multi-coloured linocuts throughout the book. The book was hand-bound, the cover hand-made. The book required four years to complete, and was the last project of Jim Rimmer and his Pie Tree Press before his death.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but there is something surreal about feeling the linen pages of a book that is so well-loved. If this was a film, the moment I touched that page would be accompanied by a Whitney Houston ballad.

Yes, letterpress. I will always love you <3

In a world of POD technology, frenzied writing deadlines and industrial printing presses, there is something that shivers my writer’s timbers about a labor of pure unadulterated passion like these books. You aren’t exactly concerned with a return on investment if it takes you 4 years to simply print the bloody book – believe me, there’s a whole lotta love.

Don’t get me wrong. Removal of the barriers to entry provided by modern printing processes and POD technology means a staggering increase in new voices and a dissemination of ideas. But if there is room for this in publishing, I really do hope there is room for the kinds of books I saw at the Alcuin Wayzgoose print fair.

On an unrelated note, if anyone is adept at strapping a 2-tonne letterpress to the back of a Chevelle, your help would be greatly appreciated :D

Linocut Sticker = wicked awesome

One of my gorgeous new books produced by the Alcuin Society

(The other is The Trial by Franz Kafka)