Gutenberg's Fingerprint

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Jun 2017

Member Reviews

This detailed and sensuous love affair with the printed book had me mesmerized from beginning to end. While it was not a quick read - so much personal and in-depth information needs to be taken in slowly - it was beautifully written. I especially appreciated the contrast in styles between the scholarly history of printing and Simonds' intimate portrait of her work. My familiarity with Kingston, ON and Queen's University, the author's setting, was an added bonus.  Anyone with experience reading and working with the printed word will enjoy this book. As a clergy person whose training includes the study of ancient and medieval rabbinic texts, and professional duties include regular reading from a Torah scroll, Simonds' references to religious writings and their role in the development of printing were particularly enjoyable.
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In 2011, author Merilyn Simonds partnered with Hugh Barclay, the one-man wonder behind Thee Hellbox Press, to produce a limited run of The Paradise Project. Simonds agreed to the printing at Barclay’s urging. He wanted to print a collection of her short stories. Barclay introduces Simonds to the finer details of book printing, which she explores in Gutenberg’s Fingerprint. In following the development and creation of The Paradise Project, Simonds describes the history of book making. She also reflects on what has (and hasn’t) changed with the shift to digital books, as she and her son work on creating an ebook of the Paradise Project.

Four sections of the book focus on stages of a book’s creation – paper, type, ink, and press. Barclay is the star of these pages. His enthusiastic and creative personality bring the task to life. He is a tinkerer full of ideas, with the intelligence and ambition to bring those ideas to fruition. In Barclay’s small printing workshop, each stage is given careful consideration. What colour should the ink of be? What impression will the endpapers give? How will the type be set? How can images be incorporated?

Simonds explains the complexities that inventors throughout history had to be overcome to make each element work together and produce a legible book. Most of her exploration focuses on the print run of The Paradise Project. Simonds also includes comments to contrast the development of the ebook, a format which has both pros and cons over a printed book.  The Paradise Project sounds like a lovely work of art. I would to get my hands on a copy, to see and feel all the care that went into making it. Gutenberg’s Fingerprint includes a few black and white photographs, but they don’t do the work justice. You can view full colour images of the completed work at Thee Hellbox Press website.

Simonds delves further into reflection in the final two sections, “Book” and “Lasting Impressions”. I found her balanced view of ebooks refreshing. Simonds loves her physical books, as many of us book lovers do, but she does not deny the advantages of ebooks. She goes beyond acknowledging the practicalities of digital reading (such as being able to carry numerous books or customize the formatting for reading comfort). For example, she notes that more voices in publishing (via digital self-publishing) cannot be a negative thing. She discusses the potential of ebooks to make a wider variety of stories available to a wider variety of people. Simonds quotes Kamila Shamsie:

Are we hearing all the complex, nuanced human voices we need to help us understand our own times, our fellow citizens, the world in which we live? No. But we could. And we must. And that should be publishing’s bottom line. (341)

Yet physical books (for Simonds, at least) easily win in the debate about superiority. I have never heard someone put it so clearly or simply than when she writes, “We are more than brains: we have ears, noses, fingertips, all of which engage with a physical book” (351). What sparks that particular feeling of joy we may find when we gaze happily at our bookshelves?

My books are my brain and my heart made visible. (366)

The Bottom Line: Simonds chronicles the exquisite print run and ebook development of her short story collection The Paradise Project. Gutenberg’s Fingerprints gives book lovers food for thought as to what it is we love about physical books and what digital books have to offer us. Simonds leaves no doubt that print books will likely endure, but does leave room to ponder – what may come next?
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Fascinating!  If you are interested in literature, publishing, reading, or creativity in the digital age, you will enjoy this book.
The author explores creativity, innovation, craftsmanship, and yes, literature.
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Fabulous contemporary and historical look at books

I enjoyed this book about Merilyn Simonds’ adventure in getting a collection of stories printed by hand. The book starts with the stories already written so it is not about the writing or the content of the book. She takes the reader through all the steps of production of her book, including paper, ink and type. As she tells the story of how the book is produced, she also discusses the history of these items. She also spends considerable time discussing the future of print books versus ebooks. The juxtaposition of the history and her personal experiences is fabulous. Along the way she tells anecdotes about the people she worked with, portraying them in a way that made me want to meet them. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who loves books and reading.
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In this memoir, Canadian author Merilyn Simonds recounts the production process of a limited edition collection of her flash fiction, The Paradise Project. Simonds collaborated with a local printer with a handpress who set the type, mixed the ink, and printed the book. Simonds' son designed block prints to illustrate the volume. A local paper maker used plants from Simonds' garden to make the endpapers for the book. The Paradise Project was later released as an ebook, and Simonds also recounts the design and production process for the electronic version of the book. Simonds reflects on the history of paper, printing, ink, and books, and she speculates about the future of authorship and reading in the digital world. After journeying with the author through the design, printing, and publication of The Paradise Project, I ended up buying the ebook version so that I can read the stories. Perhaps this is the best compliment I could offer Ms. Simonds since I nearly always download free ebooks or borrow them from libraries, but I almost never purchase them.

This review is based on an electronic advance readers' copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
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