My senior year of college, I worked at the library. Specifically, I worked for the acquisitions department. I helped them catalog (and cart to the sub-basement) their special collections; I sifted through boxes of donations that hadn’t seen the light of day in twenty years; I leafed through the collection of the late Austin Warren looking for marginalia and spent a lunch break walking through the hundreds of joke books a pair of brothers had donated (before sitting down to read The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro Agnew). My boss was a charming woman who had begun her career at the library working in the bindery. She told me that when workplace stress got to be too much, she still liked to pull out a book and start sewing on a new cover. It always sounded very tranquil. Not the studied tranquility of arranging stones in a Zen garden, perhaps, but when you really know how to do something physical, you can just let your body memory take over. That’s why the end of Big Night works so well, I think; there’s a blissfulness in just turning your mind off and cooking some eggs. And a shared meal is a great thing, but my inner Victorian just chortles over his glass of sherry at the idea of a beautiful library (perhaps with a humidor in the corner), with a shelf of books I’ve bound myself. You need to really know what you’re doing, though; my boss had dealt with rare and damaged books in the bindery for years, and I’m just not good with my hands.
But if I view book-binding as recreation rather than a process devoted to creating a perfect book, maybe I can manage it. Even though, as this MetaFilter thread suggests, we may be ever closer to books printed and permabound on demand, there’s only so much joy to be gained in watching a machine together a stack of paper hot from the laser printer. (From reading the end product, yes. From watching it drop out of the machine? I can get that from the local Kinko’s.) Maybe I’ll give these people a try and get what I need to sit a spell evenings, fumbling at stitching and swearing at the press until one day I don’t need to think about it at all. The humidor, sadly, must wait for another day.