Beautiful Books: Section Stitching, Doing it Right and our Final Salvation from E-readers


Books are rarely made with great care. Quality isn’t nearly the main concern of modern publishing. Sure, plenty of publishing houses make nods to the kind of craft that used to be par for the course, producing editions with French edging, leather covers or faux-embossed spines, but these efforts rarely rise above gimmickry. Smaller presses like FSG produce handsome hardcovers with elaborate jackets, (like me copy of Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move) but even these are pretty standard stuff. This was on my mind after reading my beautiful 1880 edition of In Memoriam and noticing the kind of handiwork that went into the construction of the edition and I was again reminded of the whole thing while reading about the founding of the Lonely Planet travel guides, and how their guidebooks are section sewn rather than being “perfect bound” so that a much turned-to page of great importance doesn’t come loose and fall out, leaving the intrepid traveler with no map (ironically, the book in which I was reading this was horribly bound and the spine broke on me with only light reading, something I was still frustrated by when I came across the above information).

All of this was swirling around my mind when I started reading Kerry Howley’s book Thrown, an offering from Sarabande Books, a wonderful little nonprofit press that focuses exclusively on the kind of literary works ignored by the big houses. A big part of Sarabande’s overall goal is to create what they call “beautiful, lasting editions that honor exceptional writing”. My edition of Thrown fits squarely into that mission statement; a solid softcover with cover flaps, section sewn and glued, printed on very good paper. An embossed house-mark separates the covers from the rest of the book, and the entire artifact breaks in like a high-end boot. Reading this book affords a tactile pleasure that supplements the purely literary aspect of the experience. If anything will preserve the printed written word, it’s high-end artifacts. The Kindle might kill the cheap paperback, but it can’t touch the kind of thing the fine people at Sarabande Books are putting out.

by Kerry Howley



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