I destroyed a book today.

It was actually kind of fun. Though there was a little corner of my mind that kept screaming, Book! This is a book that you’re ripping apart with your exacto knife here! And it’s a nice book, hardcover and with color pictures, even if they’re that cheap kind of color pictures with the three-color ink that they use for magazines . . . You’re taking apart a BOOK! But I am going to put in back together (and I’m going to do a better job of it; I’m going to sew the book well enough that I don’t need two millimeters of glue coating the spine to hold the thing together . . .) And for those of you worried about my book karma, I also completed making two books today, so my net effect on the number of books extant in the world is positive, not negative. But I can’t deny that there was some internal cringing involved.


Today was a good day in bookbinding. I added the inside pages (what do you call them? Google says endpaper or endsheet) to my brown book and my blue and yellow book, and added a spine and spine fabric to the sewn-cover book. I also added the little corner pieces (And after too much time spent wandering the internet, I didn’t find a better picture than this. Mine will be prettier) to my sewn-cover book, and I’m hoping that I’ll finish the cover and add endsheets to that one tomorrow.

Also, I took the covers off a horse book I found at the book fair (that place was DANGEROUS. I was going downtown to look for a nice book to take apart, re-sew, and re-cover, and decided on the horse book. It has pretty pictures and bits of poetry. Rachel, who’s also taking the class, found with pictures of La Alhambra from 1840-1940, in English, no less, and I’m envious. I’m trying to convince myself that I’ll have plenty of books to take back home, and there’s no reason to go buy myself a copy of that one . . . but oh, it’s pretty, and I don’t know how willpower will hold out against watching her working with it twice a week until whenever she’s done), peeled as much of the gauze and the glue off the spine as I could manage, and cut and peeled out about half of the signatures.

And just when I was settling down to carefully extract a few more, I happened to ask Rachel if she knew what time it was, because I had a class at one. “Twelve fifty,” she said. “I just checked.”
“Twelve fifteen?” I asked hopefully. The art school is a twenty minute walk from the facultad, and some people leave thirty.
“Twelve fifty,” she said. “Five zero.”
I think my response was something along the lines of “Eeep.”

Do you remember “The Big Comfy Couch?” It was after my time, but my brother sometimes watched it, so I got bits of it. There was a feature known as “The Ten-Second Tidy.” That was a pretty good description of the end of my encuadernación class today, only I didn’t have anybody with a camera to add in the “ten second” part later. I headed out of there in record time, and booked it across town to the facultad. I arrived in my seat at 1:11. This may be the first point in my college career that I’ve arrived late enough to class that the class has started without me. I’m not entirely sure about that. I’m fairly certain that it is if you don’t count any of the classes where I had five minutes between getting out of work and the class starting.
This is, of course, the only class I have in a well-heated room, so I spent the whole class quietly baking.

Other thoughts on bookbinding:
I’ve been intending to write a post about the guillotine. It is an impressive piece of machinery. And after somebody showed me how to use it, Inma basically let me use it on my own (for the first book on my own, she told me that I wasn’t to cut alone and came back to check on me every time before I cut, but I quickly realized that this was not because she was worried I would injure myself; she just didn’t trust me to set my book up properly yet (and rightly so; it’s impressively difficult to do). Once it had been determined that everything was set up properly, she would wander away again to attend to other people.
It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that people wouldn’t let me use the paper cutter (and even less time that I was wishing that they still weren’t letting me use it; I have distinct memories of ruining bits of paper in high school because I wasn’t very good with the paper cutter yet (on the subject of which, the bookbinding paper cutter is an impressive beast; not only does it have a foot petal which lowers an arm to hold your paper steady, it can chomp through cardboard like most paper cutters handle ordinary paper. Rachel says that it doesn’t cut quite straight, though (or perhaps not quite at a right angle), and she was using it a lot today on large pieces of paper, so I’ll trust her on that)). And the paper cutter is small beans compared to the guillotine, which looks like a piece of heavy machinery. I suppose that I was using lathes in Engineering 100, but that didn’t look quite so much like Giant Knives controlled by goodness-knows-how-many pounds of inertia, even if the lathes were peeling off bits of steel (it was soft steel, though).
Let me explain the guillotine to you a little more. There’s a giant blade close to a meter long which is controlled by a series of gears that make it move up and down when you wind a handle. One of my books is over 200 pages. When I cut this book, I brought the blade down nearly to the book, and then wound it the other way, hard, to bring the blade up (maybe five to seven inches) and then let the inertia carry the blade back down. Not only did it slice through 200 pages quite easily, the blade still had enough force to clear the book on the way back up. This is one impressive machine. And they let me use it all by myself, now that I’ve been properly trained.
I wonder what they called them before 1791? Or maybe they were invented after that.

There will be pictures of books, just as soon as I release them from the presses and take them home with me.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “I destroyed a book today.

  1. I’d love to see pictures of the guillotine! And your books, of course. That’s the best part. But after all these tales of the guillotine, I am very curious.

  2. I work with a guillotine, but mine is automatic.
    Still, there’s a large amount of fiendish glee that comes from taking apart and guillotining books.

  3. Before 1791???
    Obviously, before 1791 they called it a “pre-guillotine”! I’m envious, I’ve done bookbinding before, but haven’t ever even considered un-bookbinding! What an expansive education you are getting!
    Your Birkenstockinged Father…

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