By Edward Nawotka
This past weekend I was in El Paso, Texas for the biennial Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design, a prize that honors “fine printing as art” and was this year given to Chad Pastotnik and James Dissette for their edition of Heart of Darkness (Chester River Press, 2008).
Carl Hertzog was a discovery to me: It turns out the man known as “the printer at the pass” — was an El Paso native who designed and published hundreds of books, from The King Ranch, a locally revered tome about Texas’s most famous ranch, to a number of notable volumes for Knopf. And he did so from what is to most people was then more the middle-of-nowhere than it is even now…
As part of the award presentation, I was asked to give a lecture about e-books and what the future of publishing might look like. I started my slides — oh, the joys of PowerPoint — with a reference to this very site. No surprise: many of the people in the hundred-strong audience had smartphones and more than few logged on to take a look.
As it turns out: a) I was being boring or b) these folks were true bibliophiles — because when the lecture was finished, two people came up to me to tell me that (mid-lecture) they’d read our lead story from last Friday by Vanina Marsot and had gone on to buy her novel, Foreign Tongue, there and then (both had Kindle accounts and both were using iPhones). And one of them had already read several chapters.
That’s one thing about Amazon and its Kindle services: If you have the $9.99 to spare the company does manage to offer instantaneous gratification.
Of course, the irony is that we were there to celebrate the slow, painstaking process of fine bookmaking…a practice that requires patience and results in a book that requires far more money for you to take it home. Instantaneous, it is not.
It was interesting to not just how these two things — the instant Kindle download and the $500 handmade edition — both co-exist in the same context, even in one of the most geographically remote corners of our culture.