September 9, 2011
The 2111 Paper Book Festival
This weekend I will again attend the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (in Port Townsend, Washington), the finest of its kind on the West Coast, if not in the world. And on Sunday I’ll be starting to teach an adult Sunday school class on How We Got the Bible, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. So I’ve been reading up again on ancient book culture and the history of Bible translation. This reminded me of a blog I did two years ago, which I’ve refurbished for today.
The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival 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 skills nearly lost to newer technology.
The festival includes new wooden boats, evidence 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). And most of them are sailing vessels, from sailing dinghies to magnificent schooners. 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 2111 and the Paper Book Festival is located in Portland, Oregon, on the former site of the once magnificent Powell’s Books, a temple of paper book culture. There is a revival of interest in paper books. For hardcore readers, 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 in pristine condition 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. In one corner of the festival grounds a small crowd listens to a reading from a paper book. Their attention is rapt, and they exchange approving smiles and sighs at the rustling of the turning of each page. 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. A seminar explores the ancient art of cover design and the significance of the three-dimensional form of the book. 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. Honest faces prevail, and their furrowed brows, trained by the concentration of deep reading, are now a rarity across a culture shaped by the shallows of electronic media. Some children are even 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 2111 Paper Book Festival?
*Inspired by Al Hsu, invented by Josiah Hsu