Books really are the ideal invention. Yet this truth didn’t reveal itself to me until I began making books myself.
In 2009, I co-founded Publication Studio with Matthew Stadler in Portland, Oregon, with the idea of publishing books on demand. We bought a perfect binding machine, a duplex printer, and a guillotine paper cutter and hit the ground running. The first fifty or so copies were pretty janky, with crushed spines and wonky trims, so we called the imprint, “Jank Editions.” Despite their appearance, I was pretty proud of those first books. Making books by hand imbued an immediate agency to the concept of publishing, which had previously been fuzzy, slippery, and somewhat intangible for me. Printing pages, tamping the hot paper, and giving the book a spine was a way to physically understand an object that imparts both a deeply personal experience (reading) and one of public connection (it can be shared).
Today, we continue to grow our ever-evolving library of titles by working directly with artists and writers. For our recent project, REBIND, we asked thirty-two artists to reimagine the cover of an iconic book. We sent manila file folders to these artists along with the titles of their selected books and waited to see what would arrive. One of my favorites was made by New York–based artist B. Wurtz, who painted an all-over icing-pink cover for Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. As a painting, it’s formal yet playful. I loved it and have to admit I was scared to bind it at first. Paintings have a sense of preciousness, a “Handle with Care!” feel. Yet this was not a painting; it was meant to be a book cover. After I bound it, the piece was utterly perfect. We have a different relationship to books than we have to art, one that’s intrinsically more intimate. The object-ness of the book took away the painting’s preciousness and turned it into a living thing to be handled, read, and shared.