Slow Books

photo by jennifer buehrer

Anna Hawthorne is holding a slow books contest, or rather an write-an-essay-about-slow-books-contest at the moment. As you can see if you follow the link she posted it already a while ago and since then I have been thinking about what slow books could mean to me. And apparently it was not so easy for me to make up my mind.

There exists a slow movement which seems to have originated from a protest against fast food (chains) and now expands to all aspects of life. In the philosophy of the followers, “fast” seems to stand for: mass produced in low quality, bad working standards, and outsourcing. While “slow” stands for: handmade with love, good working conditions, high quality products, local resources, locally produced. I was first introduced to the idea when I read about slow blogging. The general philosophy here is: not everything that is worth being said can be said quickly.

So how would this translate to making books? And what does it mean to me?

Maybe the industrial produced books are in some way comparable to fast food: Cheap, edible, but not satisfactory to the gourmet. An important difference is that I can’t think of the book industry as evil. I think industrial book production is something we have to be profoundly grateful for. The paperback is so affordable which helps spread books and literacy. And what would I do if I had to spare money and think about each novel I want to buy? But of course I especially treasure the few handmade books I have.

As to my own work: In that sense, taking the distinction between industrial and hand binderies into focus,  of course all the books I make are slow books. But some are slower than others. Every now and then I take my time to think about a new book for days, sometimes weeks, before I even start folding the paper. I can see that books thus made are more sound in their overall design. But I do use materials that come all from all over the world. And I don’t think that the locally produced materials are better in quality or morals than others. Paper is something whose making is regionally influenced and if we restricted ourselves to local products we would limit out range of materials. Japanese paper is not a cheap, outsourced mass product but higher quality, and more slowly done than the paper that comes in stacks here.

photo by arfried
photo by arfried

If slow bookmaking means: Think about a book long enough, to make the complete design sound, include good quality materials, and make it in its own pace. Then I think this is a refreshing, meditative experience that is worth doing every so often. Sometimes also hand bookbinders are in need to work at a certain pace, though, and I don’t think this is bad as such. Maybe we could call these the outcome medium speed books.

(Photos taken from Jennifer Buehrer, Wikimedia, and arfried.)