The first time I saw before-and-after photos of repaired books, I thought: "It's magic!"
I couldn't imagine how a pile of torn-apart pages and shredded covers could possibly be resolved into a book that someone could handle and read again. How was it done? Could I learn? Who could teach me?
A friend gave me Annie Tremmel Wilcox's memoir, A Degree of Mastery, a beautifully-written and deeply felt account of her apprenticeship with book conservator William Anthony. When Wilcox saw a mid-seventeenth-century medical book that Anthony had restored, she writes: "I was enthralled.... It seemed like magic that this book was now restored to a condition where people could pick it up and easily turn the pages without harming it.... I was amazed that he could successfully take books apart and put them back together again in better condition. I had no idea that there were people who did this sort of thing." (pp. 7-8)
That book set me on my own journey into the fascinating world of bookbinding and book restoration. I've been reading all my life, and have always treasured books for their content. These past few years I've taken an interest in the physical book, as well, and ventured to learn how they are made and how they can be fixed. I've discovered that book repair is a careful magic.
For now, I've found my niche in the repair of modest, worn books that most people have in their homes, perhaps stored in a box in the attic or abandoned on a top shelf. Every book embodies at least two stories: the text itself (that wonderful creation that often outlives its author), and the story of the owner whose life has been touched, changed, and enriched by the world between the covers.
The books I repair are not particularly rare or valuable in themselves, but they have great meaning to their owners. My goal is to keep as much of the book as possible. I love to rescue a humble volume and bring it back to a usable condition. Along the way, I make discoveries about books, people, and myself.
In future posts I'll have more to say about the stories behind the books, and about the "book people" who have taught me and given so generously of their time and expertise. Bookbinders love their work! I hope to communicate that passion and enjoyment of the process, and the result: a beloved book brought back to life.