the small press page.
Books have become the latest delicious fetish object.
It was inevitable. After endless rumours about ebooks, and rabid luddites moaning about the sensual beauty of creamy thick paper and luscious letterpress, we grew hungry for... creamy thick paper and luscious letterpress. How could we not?
And look at the wondrous creations the lucky reading public has been given. Eggersiana junkies slaver over the few and far between issues of thrice-a-year-quarterly McSweeney's, a magazine that appears in a new incarnation every time, sometimes clothbound with a variety of dustjackets, sometimes a box of individual chapbooks. A David Foster Wallace story was once printed in its entirety on the spine. It is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
But there are many other similar joys to behold. Just visit any small press book fair and feast your senses on the multifarious offerings.
"But wait," I hear you cry. "is not 'small press' synonymous with 'crumby photocopied leaflets produced at the local kinkos outlet'?" Well, yes and no.
You will find leaflety things and too-precious-pun-filled things and hippie-propaganda things and high-on-content-low-on-production (but surely that's a good thing?) type books. You will find venerable literary magazines. You will find a seductive array of early books by name-brand authors (I had been meaning to read Lynne Crosbie's Paul's Case for years, but it seems to have been too controversial for most booksellers' shelves) at really good prices (and don't tell the government, but no one seemed to be charging GST). You will also find gorgeously-produced wee treasures, things that, once they've caught your wandering eye, cry out to be picked up and fondled and held.
The Expert Press produces many such delights. I lingered hungrily next to their table before giving in to the urge. Lovely soft papers that cry out to be stroked. Charming and humourous prose and poetry, bound by hand into beautiful little works that belong in a gallery. I asked Sam Andreyev, publisher, if that was indeed real letterpress I was fondling, or if he had found some clever way of replicating the effect. He explained that the covers had beed done with rubber stamps. Rubber stamps! All carefully aligned and coloured! "It's difficult to get a clear impression, we have to throw a lot away," he said. Before you ask, yes, they are small editions, but wonderful in every way.
But small editions are a good thing! Small editions allow for silkscreen printing or artisan papers or hand-illustrated jackets or books bound with - I kid you not - genuine hair curlers.
Another bonus is that the prices are generally quite reasonable - they aren't financing office space and marketing and schmooze events - so one needn't be afraid to take a chance on the unknown. Wasting $40 on a disappointing hardcover makes one long for the lovely bottle of wine one could have spent the money on instead. But two books for $15? I'm there!
I wish I could describe them all in detail. Instead I humbly offer the following small press directory of small presses that were at the small press fair. If you are a small press and have not been included, let me know and I shall gladly add you to the listing.
2x4 to the forehead
This article was originially published 24 May 2001.
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