This first portion of this post is a transcription of my interview with Dr. Surace; the latter part discusses my reflection post-interview.
Growing up, Dr. Surace’s parents didn’t read to him, as they themselves were not fans of books.
About books, Dr. Surace says, “It was not popular when I was little.”
He gravitated towards books on his own and around the 4th, 5th, 6th grades were the Danny Dunn series of adventure books.
(Dr. Surace): “You know it’s not like today, where there is such a prolifery of books out there. Back in the day when I was in 4th, 5th, 6th grades, it was Danny Dunn and Dr. Seuss. I had both of those collections. Then you know, science was always big because I wanted to be a doctor. I had a lot of biology, that kind of stuff.“
(Me): Did you read science fiction?
(Dr. Surace): “No, I don’t read fiction hardly at all, with the exception of Danny Dunn when I was a kid. Once I got to high school, it was only books that were centered on reality. “
(Me): Did you keep any of your books that you had when you were a kid?
(Dr. Surace): “You know, I have one. I wrote it actually. I wrote it when I was in the 6th grade, it’s like 40 pages long. I can show it to ya. It’s pretty funny. It was about the adventures of this kid…I tell ya the truth, I haven’t looked at it in 10 years, but it’s in my drawer in a manila envelope. “
(Me): So, you kept that book all these years—it being something like a family heirloom?
(Dr. Surace): “Again my parents weren’t really readers, but I’m going to leave some books for my kids, including the books that I wrote. Now, my son, who’s never cracked a book in his life is writing a book. He’s writing a novel, he’s reading books like they’re toilet paper. My daughter Beth is writing a book. All my kids are getting into reading and writing in their twenties. In college [for me] it was all commentaries by the great Biblical writers and commentators. In college, I was in Bible school so it gave me a wealth of books, because preachers are into books. “
[Clarification: Dr. Surace mentioned in the beginning of the interview that he wanted to be a physician growing up. He did attend pre-med school but dropped out in his sophomore year; that is the point where he shifted his direction and began seminary school.]
(Me): So, studying Hebrew roots…
(Dr. Surace): “A lot of these books are word studies. I have a real love of words. Because words are power–if you can put something into words. But you have to have a grasp on words. “
(Me): Do you have any books that are classics, or versions of the Bible that are really old?
(Dr. Surace): “I have a Bible that’s about a foot thick, and it’s from the 1800’s. Somebody gave it to me, and it’s an amazing book—it weighs about 50 pounds. It’s an old, old ancient Bible. “
(Me): Why is it so thick?
(Dr. Surace): “You know, that’s a good question. It sure is big enough, and the writings not that big. It’s not a study Bible or anything, it’s just a big, big Bible from the 1800’s. I do have other books, but most of them are not old, they’re just classics. So, like ‘new-old’ classics.”
(Me): Hmm… sounds very “tome-ish,” like a relic. So, what about the sensory experience of reading a book?
(Dr. Surace): “You know, if someone was reading the book and was wearing perfume, I can smell it when I pick up the book. Like I have books that smell like suntan lotion, ‘cause I read them at the beach. And when I pick up one of those books and I smell that suntan lotion, oh man, it brings me back to those memories. Some of my books that I take to the beach have sand in them, which I don’t really like, but at least it doesn’t ruin them.”
This interview was a great experience for me and it went better than I expected in terms of how candid Dr. Surace was with me. Dr. Surace has a high-energy personality, and is typically extremely busy, yet he is very easy to converse with and down to earth. Dr. Surace is originally from Brooklyn New York, which is where he grew up, and after living in southern New Jersey for over 30 years, he still has a thick New York accent.
The only avenue I was hoping for more information that I would still like someone’s perspective on was appreciating books as one who is acquainted with the parts of the book and the processes required to construct a book.
However, this would require the individual to have a background in book-binding, book-making and printing presses.
I can’t assume that because someone is an author that he or she has some knowledge of these areas pertaining to books. (However, I was quite impressed with the enormous sized Bible from the 1800’s Dr. Surace told me about.)
Personally, after being immersed into the many intertwining and overlapping aspects surrounding the culture of bibliophilia, I think I may have subconsciously associated “author” with “book expert” because they are related, yet–very different. So, this was also a fascinating experience for me, as I got to observe the effects of immersion into an unknown field of research on myself, and the subconscious associations and relationships that I formed in my mind, unaware I was doing so (or had done so.)
Where I hope to go next, (even though it will most likely be after my semester comes to an end) is to speak with someone who has an affection for books as an object of art, or master craftsmanship. I am not looking for someone who is a collector for the sake of monetary value, but instead because he or she has a depth of knowledge of the design principles and technical processes it takes to create a beautiful book.