I HAVE BEEN TOLD I DESERVE
“A FULL LIFE THAT ISN’T JUST ABOUT FIGHTING FOR THINGS”

After waiting already too much time to get a copy in my hands that I could inspect in detail, I gave up and just flipped through the Douglas & McIntyre edition of The Sentimentalists at the worst chain bookstore I could find, Coles. Johanna Skibsrud infuriated the Family Compact of Toronto literature by taking the Giller Prize with her novel, published by the artisanal Gaspereau Press in Kentville (blog).

This was already a violation of the natural order, in which an author’s or a publisher’s proximity to Yonge and Bloor correlates directly with credibility and “success.” The Family Compact lost its shit altogether when it became apparent that Gaspereau wasn’t about to be rushed into doing what it “should” – banging out thousands of offset copies. (Irrespective of what prize a book may win, it is not your “right” to read a copy. Nothing in the universe is infinite, copies of corporeal objets like books least among them.)

Recurrent in Upper Canada’s scorn for the ass-backward ways of this country-bumpkin “publisher” was an implication that every molecule of the book is made by hand. (Shades of “Martha Stuart” making her own water and dirt.) Actually, only the letterpress cover and the binding are “artisanal.” Inside pages are printed offset. How do I know? I bothered to ask.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Noah Richler, who has never quite explained why he ran back to Canada from the pinnacle of world-class media, the BBC, quoted a Family Compact publishing executive:

Tim Rostron, an editor at Doubleday Canada working in the same Random House building[,] wrote: “Hasn’t the physical beauty of this book been overstated? I’d feel disappointed if I’d waited weeks for what turned out to be a paperback – this is a paperback we’re talking about – with a cover featuring touchingly poor dra[f]tsmanship. Am I missing something? We corporate whores do from time to time produce handsome, sturdy volumes.”

No, you don’t, Timbo, and neither do your competitors. I can prove it, but won’t bother for now apart from directing you to my Flickr set of shitty typesetting.

Then the Star sent Kentville what might be its first-ever Chinese-Canadian reporter, Andrew Chung, who described Gaspereau’s methods:

The paper used, Rolland’s Zephyr Antique Laid, they describe as “creamy, sensual.” The sheets are bound and sewn, a process that makes them almost indestructible. And the unlaminated jackets get hand-cranked letterpress treatment.

The end result feels less processed, as if closer to the trees that made its parts. But it’s also slow. Just one example? The sewn books are too fat and must be compressed using a kind of slotted vice. Each and every book must sit in that vice for at least 15 minutes.

Yes, indeed. “[E]very book must sit in that vice” (sic). This is the level of copy quality Canada’s biggest newspaper uses to discuss artisanal book production. (Cf. shitty newspaper typesetting. Chung didn’t respond to a question about this error.)

At this point, and at every other point in the recent past, the Upper Compact intelligentsia has little or no moral standing to justify its paternalism and belittlement of the small-town press that beat them at their own game.

Shitty typesetting: The Sentimentalists version?

Now, here’s what I worried about when I read that Douglas & McIntyre were about to issue a mass-market version of The Sentimentalists. They’d get their hands on some kind of ass-backwards “file” of the book copy, “typeset” it, in Quark, on Windows, in whatever PostScript typeface came free with Photoshop five years ago (inevitably Minion, with no f-ligatures or at most and ) and call it a job well done. A “handsome, sturdy volume,” even.

I mailed a couple of people, including Scott McIntyre, trying to get to the bottom of this theory. No response. I was going to step it up a notch – to a fax-o-gram or an actual hardcopy letter – but then I remembered just how nasty one of its editors was to me last year. And it occurred to me that an artisanal letterpress shop would be exactly the sort of place that really keeps on top of its E-mail (not a contradiction). Thus Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press was happy to fill me in on all the details, never top-posting even without being asked not to (a source of that other editor’s anger).

Here, then, is a complete scoop regarding the typography and production of The Sentimentalists. You heard it here first, Upper Canada.

Gaspereau cover of ‘The Sentimentalists’ The Gaspereau version of The Sentimentalists was set in a digital revival (Monotype’s) of Eric Gill’s Joanna, but not an off-the-shelf version. I took Type 1 fonts and created OpenType versions [in FontLab], tweaking kerning [and] adding missing ligatures and an additional set of larger caps like the ones Gill had made by the Caslon foundry and used in his Essay on Typography. The sheets are printed offset, but Joanna holds up pretty well in offset if the paper is warm in colour and you keep the inks up.

(Unlike, say, in my first book [also set in Joanna], whose printing was among many issues completely botched by New Riders. Authors shouldn’t trust them with so much as their bus fare.)

On our jackets, the types are also Joanna and printed letterpress from polymer plates, a printing method where they look even more at home.

D&M’s edition is on a different paper, but the plates are produced from my typeset files. Peter Cocking at D&M (who is an excellent typographer) fixed one widow I missed and reset the title and copyright pages, but other than that the type inside is identical. I’ve only seen PDFs so far, so I can’t comment on the result.

D&M cover of ‘The Sentimentalists’ With my blessing and encouragement, D&M did change the cover significantly, introducing a sansserif font (four weights of Akzidenz-Grotesk) alongside the Joanna, and reproducing the Wes Bates image in a completely different way. I’ve basically been letterpress-printing a distressed, faded version of the Bates image, letting the laid-lines of the paper frig with the image, because it suits the imagery I’m after – faded and distressed memory, a shadowy and uncertain past. The D&M image is crisp and clear, and tinted, and feels more like a graphic-novel illustration.

It’s interesting to me how this change in materials and techniques changes the tone and meaning of the illustration, and amusing to hear people tell me that I didn’t do a very good job printing the image when – well, thanks, but I did it that way for a reason. Anyway, I wanted the cover to look like a D&M cover, not a poor reproduction of our letterpress jacket.

My sense is that, while different, their edition will be every good as ours in all but one way – the binding. Ours are sewn books, and that’s simply better than regular perfect binding. But on the whole I went to D&M because I knew they valued many of the same things I value, and that they are good at achieving many of the same things I worked to achieve, yet at a high volume. It was the best solution for this unique situation, and it let me get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing – setting type and making books at modest volume.

So you repair your own fonts, do you, Andrew? How artisanal.

I’ve been gradually taking faces I use frequently and making my own OpenType versions, scripting and fixing as necessary. I’m often adding parts that got dropped in early film or digital versions. The foundries were sometimes very lazy, keeping oddities adopted to answer the shortcomings of earlier technologies even after new technologies eliminated those limitations.

So we get digital letterforms modified to fit the Monotype grid or italics and romans with the same set width because they were designed for… Linotype mats. Yeah, some of that stuff is quaint and worth preserving in some form (especially if you are going to print letterpress from photopolymer), but sometimes it is better to return to the original source and honour it with all the present technology can offer.

There are times when one wishes the Family Canada oligopoly of publishers would go fuck themselves. (No, actually, ligatures are not a luxury and you need at least five of them. My first book was about computers and we used seven. “We’ve upped our standards. Up yours.”)

Andrew Steeves is my kinda guy. The fact he isn’t their kinda guy tells us rather a lot.

Now, is the book any good? Well, is that what we’re talking about?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.12.03 14:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2010/12/03/sentimentalists/

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