Books: A Words Sketch… And a Pages, Bindings, and Fonts Sketch!

My beloved readers, please excuse the redundancy if you’ve seen this post before. I wrote it for Epinions.com, but it is no longer on that site, and I thought it might be suitable for the blog. As you can see, I had a propensity for creating extremely long articles, even in pre-blog days… And, if you’ve never seen this before, enjoy!

The book is compact–one historical event, one life, one little memoir. It has a glossy cover and a smooth, unbroken binding. All of that is about to change…

Really, it is a disgrace to treat a book as you are about to treat this one. You wish you didn’t have to… but there isn’t any other choice. Taking a deep breath, you open the publication to the exact center, pull the pages apart as far as they will go, and press down. The book creaks in protest, then breaks. Farewell, unblemished binding.

But now, you have the facts. Through a break in binding and a few moments with the scanner, you know that this is, indeed, a special book–one worthy of both your bookshelf collection and Bookshare.org, the online library for those with print disabilities. Now, the reading can begin.

First, a dilemma: Your scanner does not announce page orientation, and pages are adjusted automatically. If you’re going to scan, read, and save this book in an electronic format, you will need to know with absolute certainty which cover is the front and which the back. Both covers are glossy. There is nothing particularly distinguishing in size, shape, or dog-eared corner… There! You have it! Almost imperceptibly, the outlines of a little wrinkle. Can it be? What your fingers have encountered is, of all things, a set of tooth marks on the front cover of this children’s book. Now, where could those possibly have come from? Did some mischievous cat saunter across the table one day and decide to see whether the book tasted of salmon? Ah, well… let bygones be bygones. The tooth marks may now serve as clues for the task at hand. You can’t mar this publication with a Braille label, so the tooth marks will have to stay. Other books you’ve scanned have possessed different attributes–a folded corner on the front, a library jacket fitting the entire publication like a child’s bulky mitten, a sticker on the back cover… every book has something unique to celebrate. And, if not? Well, you can always notch one of the covers gently with a pair of scissors. It’s your book, isn’t it? And the binding is broken, anyway.

And so, you begin scanning. Open a file, save it using the title of your book, making sure the document is saved in RTF format… and you’re off! First the title page. It will be produced with or without fancy, curling, calligraphic font; with or without “Praise For” stamped all over it; with or without a list of books by the same author; sometimes, with or without any discernable text at all. You will experience page numbers–or not. There will be Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, a little flourish that could be anything with some stretch of the imagination… the possibilities are endless! Your favorite, you think as you regard the book with satisfaction, are those pages with lower- rather than uppercase Roman numerals–for the sheer improbability of it all.

Now for the copyright. This must be in place for every book; otherwise, the venture is an infringement of copyright law and highly illegal. And so, you scan the copyright page. Pay attention: Is the ISBN in place? Some older books don’t come with ISBNs, but do look closely. Check and double-check, if necessary. Are the copyright dates, copyright renewal dates, permissions holders, etc. all properly acknowledged? Or, is the copyright page not even in the front of the book? Will you find it somewhere near the back–perhaps even on the back cover? So many choices…

Legalities aside, a story is coming your way. There’s no need to walk you through the careful process of scanning each page–of checking for errors, making sure page numbers and chapter headings correspond with text, etc. So, instead, you let your mind wander back to a time when books were in large, cumbersome Braille volumes. A time when recorded material was easier, but more limiting. A time when, in sad truth, you led a relatively bookless existence.

Oh yes, there were books. Your mother’s Bible, for one. From earliest childhood, you’ve always loved holding Bibles–but this one was special, magnificent, simply awesome. It was first put into your hands when you were seven. This was the Old Testament, and this the New. See how much smaller the New Testament is than the Old Testament? See what lessons can be learned from both, if you’ll only hide this Book in your heart? See these thin, perfect pages that must be turned with all possible reverence? And those index markers to help you find your place–so necessary, because this Bible has so much to teach? Feel the weight of that exquisite message–those pure, beautiful, wonderful, joyous words?

You do. And as the years pass, you begin to see other glorious things in your mother’s Bible. Even though you now have a Bible of your own and read it regularly, absorbing that holy message for yourself, there’s still something about another person’s copy of the Scriptures. One afternoon, you find that Bible lying open on a table. One wondrous page–the left-hand one– is smooth and unmarked. The right-hand page bears tiny grooves–small lines and other marks from careful underlining. You turn a few pages. More underlining, and a few places where entire sections have been heavily highlighted. Those smooth pages must be in… let’s see… Ecclesiastes, which your mother has admitted to not understanding. Carefully-highlighted ones, further back, must mean you’re close to Psalms. Oh, the joy of experiencing a book this way! Including, and especially, the Bible.

Your own Bible is much different. Not the Braille one that comes in twenty volumes and takes up an entire bookcase, but the print one you received several years ago. Others read it aloud, write your comments in the margins, and highlight where you direct. Oh, the things you could say of others’ serving hands! But, for now, our topic is books—not hands–so you’ll refrain. Your Bible is smaller–a unique size in that it isn’t quite fit for pocket or purse, but certainly smaller than your friends’ Bibles. The leather binding is worn and falling apart. It’s been glued in several places, but still comes loose. One of these days, someone is going to encourage you to get it rebound–but then, you wouldn’t be able to cling to that old adage, “The evidence of a well-fed soul is a well-read Bible.” And those awe-inspiring, holy words! You know the Scriptures well enough to imagine what that print must be saying–“Beautiful words, / Wonderful words, / Wonderful words of life.” One evening, you sat with this Bible on your lap, a recorder in your hand. Without commenting, you carefully turned a few pages–one by one, paragraphs of love and grace. The thirty-second recording is still on your iPod.

As the scanner hums in the background, you turn your attention to other books–literary and didactic, polished and somewhat flawed. The sudden acquisition of a scanner has broadened your world, and yours is no longer a bookless existence. No more must you content yourself with Braille textbooks and audio devotionals alone. Now, you can read almost anything. And, while you’re waiting to investigate the latest biography or work of poetry, you can study what the sighted world has known for years. You continue turning pages, pressing them onto the glass surface of the flatbed scanner, and waiting for your software to convert the image into readable text. As you do, you make some observations.

Cover: With or without a jacket? If with, can the jacket be removed? Is the book or jacket engraved with a tactile, raised-print title? Is the book hard-back, or paperback? [Hint: Paperbacks are easier to scan.]

Distinguishing Features: Did you know that stains can be beautiful–especially if they’re rather sticky? A spilled remnant of last summer’s sweetened iced tea can provide insight as to which cover is the front. Scrape off some of that stain, but leave a bit intact. The same principle applies to wrinkles, stickers, creases, dog-ears, and even those infamous tooth marks. Aside from directing you in the scanning process, these features are sentimental—plain and simple.

Binding: Leather, or thoroughly ordinary? Oh, yes, you shall judge a book by its cover! Are there pre-existing breaks? Where? Is this a well-loved book, or did it collect dust? Trace the book with your finger. Any remnants of ribbons or torn, fragmented bookmarks? Does it smell of a library, a musty attic, or a lavender sachet? Hint: The very best books smell something akin to all of the above. They are British; smell of bath salts, furniture polish, fresh air, antiques, and cedar; and cost a mere cent on Amazon, even though the seller must ship the book all the way from somewhere in Brighton… That book was by one Jennifer Reese-Larcomb, was entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD?, and was th only Christian-living book you’ve ever encountered that could make a spiritual valley seem almost inviting. Yes, judge a book by its cover, but most especially by its scent.

Size and Shape: Ah, now this says something about the book’s character! Is it more efficient to design a smaller but thicker book, or is it more literary to produce a larger yet thinner book? Why are picture books produced the way they are? Why is a particularly edifying devotional just slightly too large to fit on the scanner? Why, you almost feel as if you’re chopping and cutting that book from its binding to no purpose! And if a book can’t be unbound, how will you handle a cumbersome size? In these cases, you have little choice; you must scan one side of a page, then another. This doubles your time, but it’s worth the effort. Lesson: If you love your books, you’re even willing to unbind them.

Inner Flaps: Why, we have a pocket for a library card on our hands! But you purchased this book used from Amazon. Oh, the stories the previous owners could have told…

Front Matter: How do other people do it? Sometimes, front matter is quite illegible. It’s all you can do to coax it from the scanner. Titles in brazen, screaming fonts. Authors whose names, even typed, insist on announcing their presence with a curving flourish. Copyright dates and ISBNs that are so small or faded that they come trembling onto the page as a series of whimpering, jumbled letters and numbers that may or may not make sense. Inscriptions in the previous owner’s sloppy handwriting—nuances that the scanner can never pick up, but which you know must be present on a given page because they have a tendency to interfere with the rest of the typed content. Even so, you love them all–every flawed, beautiful I that should be the number 1. Every symbol that announces itself as a “black square” or some other strange bullet—every asterisk and other squiggle that the scanner seems to derive from front matter. Why find these details so striking despite the challenges they pose to the process at hand? Because those inscriptions indicate that someone loved my book. The publisher cared enough to make the title font dance across the page, or someone’s dearest friend cared enough to write “to my sister in Christ with agape, shalom, and hesed” on the dedication page, or a devoted Bible student cherished this theological text enough to scrawl a note in the margins. Case in point: LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE by Stormie Omartian. Your grandmother wrote so many notes in the body of the book, and underlined so extensively, that the scanner never could have done anything with the text. So, instead, your mother made an exception to the “fewer audiobooks, more personal reading” maxim you’ve been embracing and read the book on tape, complete with the book’s handwritten notes as well as her own commentary. It’s like a spiritual button box, that book. What does it matter that you had to order a crisp, clean, like-new copy when you found you still wanted Omartian’s excellent work on Bookshare?

Main Content: Sharp and brilliant. Hyphens where you don’t expect them. Intriguing line breaks. Poetic license taken with capitalization and commas. Authorial and publishing decisions regarding fine points of Christian grammar–to capitalize pronouns relating to God, or not? You’re always so glad when they do. You’re always tempted to correct lowercase pronouns, including “who” and “whom”, when they don’t, but this would be a serious infringement of copyright law and the rights of the author and publisher, so you grit your teeth and imagine every pronoun properly capitalized, glad, for once, that you don’t own one of those fancy Braille displays that would be constantly putting the publisher’s pronoun faux pas at your fingertips. Page numbers–in which corner of the page? And, you never knew that so many headers and footers could exist in one place!

Stationery: So many varieties! Fleming H. Revell, the Christian publisher of such materials as Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, prints many of their books on sturdy pages with slightly jagged edges. Could this be symbolic of the doctrine of grace? Just as we are, with all of our jagged sins, we come to the Lord to be used for His service… The Prison Letters of Corrie ten Boom is printed on thick, straight-edged paper. Could the durability of the pages represent the ten Booms’ courage amidst trying times? Likewise, Mommy Whispers, a picture book patterned after the classic Love You Forever, is printed on pages that are both large and heavy–the vastness of a parent’s love, coupled with the gradual passage of time and the strength of a family bond. By contrast, a profound mid-grade book is printed on small, fragile pages that make a quiet yet persistent rustling sound when turned. Like the crunch of autumn leaves, or the soft voice of a child who has experienced much in her thirteen years–a memoir whose pages carry a message in and of themselves…

Pages: Check for splotches, tears, etc. Not only do these lend the book character, but they must be fixed. Get up-close and personal with each piece of paper. [Hint: Camille Beckman’s Glycerin Hand Therapy cream works well for this; it absorbs quickly, does not interfere with scanning, and preserves your hands against the inevitable dryness caused by this sort of minute examination.]

Your scan is nearly finished. In the time it has taken you to ruminate on these matters, you have produced over a hundred pages. Your ultimate conclusion is a startling one: Books appear much different if you aren’t merely reading them. If every word must be personally handled, if every page and paragraph must be examined from the front and then placed face-down on a scanner, you learn to appreciate your literary companion a bit more. Suddenly, you have to ask yourself whether that cookbook is really worth the trouble, or if there’s a more exigent bit of information to be shared.

As you submit the completed scan to Bookshare for consideration, you’re almost loath to let it go. The hard copy has been turned this way and that, broken, battered, lovingly arranged when legible, hurled across the room when not… Now, an electronic copy is being placed in a holding cell until a volunteer proofreader rescues it out of the kindness of his or her heart. From there, it will be checked for errors–and how tragic ‘twill be if any are found!–and submitted for final approval. In a few weeks, other visually-impaired readers will have yet another book from which to choose. What can you say to the volunteer who will hold your hard work in their proverbial hands? “This book took me three days to scan; please keep this in mind when proofreading”? Or, more kindly, “The hard copy is wrinkled–well-read and well-loved. The pages are fragile and wispy. There is a tiny rip on Page 53. Someone read and reread Page 134, obviously incorporating some sort of touch as well, , for the ink has faded and the scanner had a difficult time processing it. I wish you could have absorbed the fragrance of this book; it smelled like a joyful home in which God had restored a marriage, my beloved proofreader—that’s what it smelled like!”? Instead, you take the sedate route and write in the comment box: “Line breaks on Page 141 did not come out well. Dialogue on Page 86 is authentic and spelled correctly, to the best of my knowledge—the author simply has a unique style. The ISBN is not located in the text of the book, but the copyright page is present.”

Then, not willing to let the experience go unnoticed, you open a new document–not RTF this time, and not with a scanner close at hand. First, you describe the experience of scanning. Then, hoping your words will penetrate a heart grown used to ignoring small luxuries, you write an appeal:

To My Friends in the Sighted Community:

I have but one request for you. Please, dear friends, beloved readers, notice life. Buy a set of chimes and notice their complexity. If you do it right, you should have found some chimes that seem at once to play both high and low notes–so very intricate… Or, go to a gift shop and find the chimes that resemble a cross from one side and a dove from the other. Trust me, they exist. If you can’t afford them, record their complexity. Oh, yes, there are signs everywhere forbidding customers to photograph merchandise, but no one ever said anything about recording goods for sale!

Buy a turntable and plenty of old records. 54 is a good number–or, if you prefer, LIV. Examine them individually, noting their condition and any interesting attributes of album covers. Then, gather them in your arms and inhale their fragrance–like that of a library. When you actually listen to the albums, take in the crackling sound that some make–irritating to some, but comforting in its own right.

Wash your hands–not because they’re dirty, but for the sheer joy of the water itself. Let that hot, peace-evoking water, scented as it is with myrrh-containing soap, swirl about you. Change positions often for the full effect. Reduce the temperature to something cooler–the sudden, surprising rush of joy. Turn water to a trickle, then off completely. Now, wasn’t that lovely? Of course, you do have to obtain myrrh-scented soap… Look at an organic grocery store.

Drink some tea. Don’t just throw it together; choose everything carefully. Pretend this is a book. Select your tea, combining flavours such as Earl Grey and peppermint if necessary and deliberately seeking out nothing but loose-leaf; heat your water to the perfect temperature; choose a cup and justify your decision through an elaborate thought process using ninety percent of your sentimental cortex and as little actual logic as possible; add preservative-free clover honey and full, rich, authentic cream as if this will be your last drop of hot comfort for the rest of the year; and decide on some music to accompany your treat. Ah, the majesty of Integrity Music’s early releases–velvet congregational voices and the harp!

Or, you could just read a book. But, beloved reader, I implore you–don’t just “pick up a book”. Take several moments to examine it. It will cease to be just a few printed words. Truly, dearest friends, take time to touch the pages.

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