Handcrafted books remain desirable

With e-books becoming more popular, some say the end of the printed page is near. You’d think this prediction would strike fear in the heart of Okanagan book designer Jason Dewinetz. Not only does Dewinetz publish books at his small printing house in Vernon, he painstakingly crafts them with archaic handset printing. There must be days when he feels the vultures circling, or wants to go out to the porch and shake his fists at the future.

Not so.

“You’d expect my opinion about e-books to be that it’s the end of the world,” said Dewinetz. “But I think they will actually help publishers like me who create high quality books for people who really love them.”

While e-books greatly reduce the waste of producing one-time-reads such as mass market paperbacks, they can’t replace beautifully crafted books. To create his books, Dewinetz uses a process where ink is rolled over letters that have been placed by hand into a metal press. Each of the books is then also bound by hand. He chooses to use this more laborious printing method because it offers greater quality.

“Computer printing is convenient but the quality is poor,” he said. “Ink shoots onto paper. It isn’t absorbed like the traditional printing and so it eventually begins to flake off. But hand printed books that are 500 years old can still look good.”

Many people became familiar with handcrafted books last year when Gaspereau Press, a small publishing house in Nova Scotia, made national headlines. When their book The Sentamentalists won the Governor General’s Award, publisher Andrew Steeves was flooded with requests. Using handset printing, he was only able to create a handful of books each day and simply couldn’t keep up with the sudden demand. Controversy began when he refused to sacrifice quality for a faster printing method.

As it turns out, Gaspereau Press has just published a book of poetry by Dewinetz entitled Clench. Not wanting to self-publish, Dewinetz chose Gaspereau because they share a similar philosophy when it comes to book design.

“I’ve long been an admirer of Andrew’s books,” Dewinetz said. “I respect the excellent production quality.”

That said, it wasn’t easy for Dewinetz to step aside while someone else published his book. After all, he has run his own award-winning publishing house, Greenboathouse Press, for 10 years. This year, two books from Greenboathouse are nominated for Alcuin Awards for Book Design in Canada.

“I had more involvement than Andrew would have liked,” joked Dewinetz about the design of his poetry collection. “For a while Andrew was perfectly happy for me to put in suggestions. Then after so much back and forth, he scrapped what we had done. He told me I had to trust him and let him work. That was hard for a control freak like me, but in the end, I’m happy.”

The poems in Clench are raw, at times intense and always revealing. What I love about poetry like this is that you never know what you’ll find on the next page … other than a closeness to another person’s mind that can’t be attained through any other form of writing.

Just as e-books will never entirely replace handcrafted fare, one form of storytelling will never cause the death of another. National poetry month is a great time to celebrate and reacquaint yourself with an old favourite or a new collection of poems. To locate Dewinetz’s collection, visit Gaspereau Press online at www.gaspereau.com, or to learn more about Greenboathouse Press visit www.greenboathouse.com.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton. allenh@telus.net