September 15, 2009
The 2109 Paper Book Festival
Last weekend I attended the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (in Port Townsend, Washington), the finest of its kind on the West Coast, if not the world. It is a grand celebration of an old technology and traditional material—wood. Which is to say, it’s a celebration of boats with wooden hulls rather than the now prevalent fiberglass, or “plastic,” which began to make its appearance in the 1960s and now dominates recreational boat building. It’s a celebration of boats made in the old way and the retrieval of dwindling skills.
There were new wooden boats on display, indicators of the resurrection of this tradition. But most of them are old, many of them beautiful specimens in “bristol” condition and top working order (testimony to a passion calling for boundless patience, sweat and money). The tradesmen who are maintaining this craft of building and repairing wooden boats—many of them in or around Port Townsend—are present, giving demonstrations and seminars and advertising their services. There are sailboat races, musicians performing nautical tunes, “pirates” wandering the grounds and a swelling tide of tall nautical tales being exchanged.
This set me to imagining a day—say, one hundred years hence—when people gather for an annual Paper Book Festival.
The year is 2109 and the Paper Book Festival is located in Portland, Oregon, on the former site of the once magnificent Powell’s Books. There is a revival of interest in paper books. The promise of the electronic book has now grown as thin as a silicon wafer, and the mostly forgotten values of wood-pulp books of yore are being extolled. The trade in dog-eared and deeply yellowed paperbacks, dredged up from dark-cornered basements, is burgeoning, and cloth-covered books are prized above all else.
At the Paper Book Festival we have demonstrations of repairing book covers, the effective use of book markers, how to hold a book and turn its pages (including how to use your fingers to hold your place on multiple pages while you flip back and forth), how to use an index, the advantages of the paper book for “deep reading,” the construction of bookshelves and the making of book stands. There is even an area dedicated to feeling and smelling a variety of paper pages.
There are sessions too on why the paper book was such a great invention and a wonderful use of a renewable resource, the rapidly-growing poplar tree. Under a canopy there are musicians singing ballads of paper books on traditional wooden instruments. Then too there are seminars on papermaking, printing, binding and so forth for those who are exploring their options for getting into the trade. Some of the books and libraries on display have been handed down through several generations of a single family.
The crowd is of a predictable demographic, with many wearing traditional fabrics of cotton, wool and hemp, an unusual amount of facial hair is sported by the men and a bottle blond among the women is a rarity. Some children are observed running barefoot.
In a far corner of the festival grounds there is a little-visited but interesting display of early twenty-first-century technology that brought an end to the paper-book industry—from the original Kindle (a quaint device, now yellowed with age) through the Blaze V and on to the iRetina.* And there are the now familiar if scolding warnings that these devices are proven causes of cancer and cultural demise.
This blog is a time capsule. What other suggestions do you have for the 2109 Paper Book Festival?
*Inspired by Al Hsu, invented by Josiah Hsu