Book Lovers

Someone drew my attention to a comment about my books (The Stone Street Press) that they found in Dick Margulis’s blog. The name rang a bell: Dick Margulis had recently ordered “A Collection of Yiddish Proverbs” through my newly refurbished (by my daughter Sion) website, and at that time reminded me that we had talked at The Small Press BookFair in NYC in December 2006, and then I remembered that we had talked many times at previous SP fairs, when he would stop by my table to see what was new.

Here is Dick’s comment, posted 12.4.2006:

“Malachi McCormick is a writer, translator, calligrapher, and maker of books. He is Irish, by way of Staten Island, and I don’t know whether the charming brogue in which he converses with strangers at book fairs is his everyday idiolect but it is delightful nonetheless.
Malachi cannot be bothered with typography at all. His work is all in his own calligraphic hand, a traditional Irish script that we usually call uncial, and features covers and slipcases of handmade paper. These books are not nearly so well constructed as Ed Rayher’s are, but they are much livelier and quite beautiful in their own, more primitive, way.”

Dick closes his comment with this statement:

“Beautiful objects inspire us to create other beautiful objects. That alone is reason enough to own them.”

Ed Rayher (who I also talked with at the fair, briefly) is, by the way, the owner/operator of Swamp Press and is famously involved in the arcana and impedimenta of letterpress, to a degree probably unequalled by most. I have other Letter Press pals –Dikko Faust & Esther Smith of Purgatory Pie Press are old friends, who I first met at the NY Center for Book Arts when it was at 15 Bleecker Street; Dikko was taught by the famous doyen of LP, Walter Hamady!– and have some sense of just how demanding the LP mode is (some would say “fetish”). Earlier, Dick Margulis –in the same blog entry– goes into quite a bit of detail as to Ed Rayher’s LP process. Margulis, who advertizes himself on his blog as a typophile (inter alia), clearly seems more drawn to Swamp than Stone, and we can only imagine, considering his overall comments, where on the spectrum he ends up.

At my very first Small Press Fair –at the NYU Loeb Center on Washington Square Park in NYC in 1981– at which I showed 12 handbound copies of my very first book, “A Collection of Irish Proverbs”, I found and bought, and had signed, some Swamp Press books. I bought them because they were lively and funny and engaging (and I could afford them.) One was a little pamphlet binding; another was bound in boards covered with the “cloth” from a Hawaiian shirt belonging to Stan, one of the SP partners. I still have them in my collection. Dick M. clearly prefers Swamp book-construction over Stone, but it is hard to see exactly why. Perhaps it is Typophile Margulis who prefers letterpress to anything else –including my calligraphy.
That of course is purely a matter of taste, but here let me throw in –quite gratuitously, or almost– the observation that one of my calligraphed books –I can’t remember if it was “Colum Cille” or “The Lament for Art O’Leary” because they both won First Prize on different years– was awarded the Best Letterpress Design, 1997, at a wellknown Westcoast BookFair! It’s true!

So –I don’t know. Margulis is definitely being complimentary to my books –“much livelier and quite beautiful in their own, more primitive, way– (maybe even “primitive” is a plus, but somehow I doubt it. Maybe it was “the charming brogue in which he [me] converses with strangers at Book fairs, that swayed him. He wonders whether it is my “everyday idiolect” or if I am putting it on on. But –he notes– it is “delightful nonetheless.”

Well. I’m going to take all that as a compliment. Next time I will be watching carefully how I “converse with strangers at book fairs.”

In closing, I should say that at this point I shrink from taking up Dick’s comment, ” Malachi can’t be bothered with typography at all”. To deal fully with the term “bothered’ is, at this stage, beyond me. All I can say is….”you had to be there!”
But all that is commentary. The really lovely –and, I believe, wise–compliment is what he says about beauty:

“Beautiful objects inspire us to create other beautiful objects. That alone is reason enough to own them.”

A comment like that is really quite a gift, and I thank him for it. Roger Rosenblatt (the wellknown PBS Newshour essayist) made a similar observation about my books in a PBS-essay a few years ago. He liked the books too, and he said of my books: “…he does it for the sake of beauty.”
It’s a great compliment, especially from someone I admire so much, and I took it as such for quite a long time without even questioning what that meant –until one night I had a dream. Yes, it’s true. I had been working late on a new book and had been saying to myself something like: “This book is going to be my most beautiful yet.”
Well, I went to sleep and had this dream. Someone –a voice, my own voice, but a higher voice– was telling me about beauty. It’s not true: you don’t make something “for the sake of beauty”, it was saying. Beauty comes from function, when everything is made the best you can make it, when you work out all the elements, and resolve all the aspects of “the thing” that need resolution. Beauty had to do with “best effort at the time” rather than “ultimate expression.” When I was researching my book on the life and times of Colum Cille, Ireland’s great bibliophiliac book-saint, I had come to see that he had regarded books as sacred, and that each element of the book–the quality of the vellum, the oakgall ink, the goosequill, the contemplative surroundings, the utter clarity (=beauty) of the (invisible) calligraphy, and so on and on, was raised to the level of being suitable as a “divine offering”.
It is this “honest effort” that is the main element, the soul, of beauty, and it is why we can find examples of beautiful creativity from every culture and from every age of artist.

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