Pre-Interview Preparation Post: Michelle Wagner

This is my pre-interview, preparation post supplementary to my online interview with Tennessee mom, Michelle Wager, as first mentioned per my Interview Schedule post.

I originally stated in my Interview Schedule post that the online interview was set up for 3/30 or 3/31, however I gave our date a slight adjustment and moved it up to the first weekend in April which was more mutually workable for both Michelle and myself. This was the date that I sent the e-mail to her, as I wanted to give her ample time to answer me. (I requested that she get back to me by the 10th.) As a busy mom of two young children, I appreciated Michelle’s time and wanted to allow her several days to compose her e-mail before replying back to me.

The type of information I was looking to get was somewhat in-depth and personal. So, instead of opting to do the interview via an online chat forum, I chose to use e-mail as to gather more detail and backstory.

Regarding the topics my interview would center around, I wanted to go back to Michelle’s childhood, in order to discover what her first experiences with books were like and how those experiences colored her perspective, thus shaping her book habits in her teen and young adult years. I also planned to ask Michelle how and when she developed a fondness for books, and what social or emotional attachments books had which connected them to other things (adding a layer of sentiment or nostalgia.) Once I could see how the perspective on books was formed, next I wanted to look at how it was carried over into Michelle’s behavior as a parent, and the ways she introduced books as an object of fondness to her children and the way they seem to feel toward books, (interested, disinterested, etc.)

Reflecting back to the beginning of the semester, I initially connected with Michelle through downloading Facebook’s App, Circle of Moms.

Facebook’s App, Circle of Moms  states on the site that its purpose is, “dedicated to making the lives of moms easier and more enjoyable. We help moms connect, both to one another and to their families, to capture and share their children’s stories and to tap a rich and authentic source of advice and support: other moms. Circle of Moms gives you instant access to a world of moms and to the know-how, empathy, and humor that only they can provide. Call on the support of your closest mom friends through your Inner Circle, meet moms in your neighborhood through your local community, or connect with the unlimited resources of a world of moms through other Communities of special relevance to you.”

I had seen Circle of Moms before on Facebook but never really paid much attention to it as I am not a parent yet. However, trying to come up with a creative way to connect with a real mom online in the category that I was looking for, the App then became something of interest to me as I needed an online forum geared toward mothers. Thankfully, I was already on Facebook, so it was easy for me to join, and if I did indeed connect with someone, I already had a Facebook profile set up that they could peruse to get to know me.

Once I downloaded the App, I was then given the option to join a “sub-community” centered around various topics pertaining to motherhood, such as breastfeeding. I wanted the leeway to branch into my area of interest, so I selected to join the Circle of Moms sub-community of Toddler Moms.

Toddler Mom’s motto said, “Mothers of all ages all around the world who are active mothers of toddlers and infants.”

Once I joined the group, I posted a question and asked if anyone was a fan of books, read to their kids, and would be willing to share a little bit with me. I also shared that I was a graduate student and posted the link to this research blog for my Core 2: Research Methods for Writers graduate course. Eventually, Michelle responded to my post and I followed up by asking her if she wouldn’t mind if we continued the conversation via e-mail, as to guard our privacy and provide the structure for more detailed responses and the ability to start and pick up later.

As expert researchers, Chris Mann and Fiona Stewart discuss in Chapter 5, (Internet Interviewing) of Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein, using e-mail to conduct creative research is considered legitimate and is termed computer-mediated communication (CMC) which falls under the category of semi-private, (p. 82).

Additionally, as stated in the text, this genre of CMC, “allows the interviewer…some level of control with regard to the nature and content of interaction,” (p. 82).  Mann and Stewart expound on CMC to provide research examples of CMC saying, “Other interviewers have investigated the experiences of people engaged in such online activities as…on-line versions of subculture…rural women’s use of interactive communication technology…” (p. 82).

The examples that the text provides are right in line with my interview with Michelle, as she is an individual who represents a subculture of mothers who are book-lovers and share book culture with their children. Michelle is also an example of a woman who engages in interactive communication technology as per her participation in the Circle of Moms Facebook community.

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Supplementary Post: A Description of Book-Binding & Book-Making

This post is supplementary to my “Interview with an Amateur Book-maker” post. What you are viewing are  digital scans of instructional materials that Jennifer provided to me from her Book-Making and Book-Binding course at Atlantic Cape Community College.

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Interview with an Amateur Bookmaker

I connected with Jennifer Horberg, a Fine Arts students at Atlantic Cape Community College, through some friends that were aware of my graduate research project and knew that she had taken some courses relating to my topic of study. I gave Jennifer a phone call, introduced myself and my research topic, and  found out that indeed, she had taken a course on book-making and book-binding, paper-making and marbling paper.  So, I invited her to join me for a pizza dinner and an interview on her areas of course study.

Jennifer arrived at my home around 7:30 in the evening, a canvas tote in hand. I was surprised to see that she had not only obliged to meet, but had come bearing gifts!

Inside of the bag were old books, such as Babar and His Children,  that she had collected since childhood. I began to feel a sense of excitement for our interview and the sight of these collectible books. The books were calling to me, and I was itching to have a look. I decided to ask Jennifer if she didn’t mind if I took a gander, to which she laughingly replied “of course.” I dove in and opened up the literary treasure chest inside the bag. “Diving in” was somewhat against “the plan” of eating first, and conducting the interview afterward, yet in the spirit of going with the flow, I decided to just let things take their own course and whenever we happened to eat dinner was fine, as long as my guest was comfortable!

Here, Jennifer also included in the bibliophilic mix, samples of books that she had created in her college course. There was a beautiful, rectangular book made of light, blue-green, organic paper with reflective, silvery strands in it.  The book was blank on the inside, but it was only a few pages in length. There was a small, three-dimensional “star” book which opened up in origami  fashion. Its pages were white and blank. The pureness of the white seemed conducive to the experience of enjoying the “book” simply as a sculptural work of art that one could enjoy and the thought of trying to construct a story for such an object seemed both exciting and overwhelming at the same time.

The next book that I encountered was covered in a dark green silk, bound together with hemp, and embellished with textured, decorative papers on the front. I could see spots where the glue had seeped through the material and dried, creating “dark” spots. I wondered what kind of glue is needed for making a book of this kind. This being more a photo-album style book, than a paperback novel. I wondered why the glue had come through the material, perhaps it was the wrong material or the wrong glue that was used.

Trying not to show any negative emotion or disdain, I asked Jennifer what kind of glue is recommended for making books of this sort, to which she replied that her class used the “YES!” brand of glue. Wondering if the reason why it had seeped through had been due to the application, I asked about the method to apply it. Jennifer said that YES! glue is quite thick, and dries very fast. Usually, it needs to be applied using something like a putty knife, or a piece of cardboard to “push” it across and down the surface.

This question about the glue seemed to open up the conversation for the process of how books are made, and their parts using the large, silk-covered book to demonstrate. The method that Jennifer described to me is for making the type of book that is bound together through a sewing method, instead of being bound together through glue alone.

She then explained that she first constructed the body of the book, which consists of the cover, the back, the binding, the paper, the decorative insert, and last 2 pages.

Thinking back to my research on the canons of page design, I inquired about the design models used in class for book-making, which centered around the “Golden Rectangle.” As Jennifer was explaining the theory, I was having trouble visualizing what she was talking about, so she drew a diagram for me in my notebook. (Which you can see in my field notes in this post. It appears as a square with 4 dots, one in each corner, and a dot in the center. ) Feeling like I needed more information, I asked Jennifer if she had any supplementary material that she would be able to share with me from her course. Thankfully, she did have several hand-outs which she agreed to drop off to me later during the week.

Carrying on our discussion about the process of making a book, Jennifer then explained that, in order to poke holes through the paper and cardboard, an awl is used, which can be bought at mostly any local hardware store. As in her book, after the cover is added, hemp is then sewn through the holes that were poked through with the awl. As hemp is considered acceptable to bind the book together, and the “classic” binding material of choice according to Jennifer. I was surprised as it is very organic. I did not think that it would stand the test of time very well. In order to bind the book, Jennifer explained that the hemp is sewn in an upwards motion towards the top of the book, and then back down, to reinforce the stitching.

I wondered how book are glued together that are not sewn together with hemp or other material, so I picked up a paperback sitting nearby and asked about the binding process. Thumbing through the book, Jennifer appeared to be looking for something. So I leaned closer. She explained that usually books have sections of pages of about 25 pages to a group that  are folded in half and bound together. In other words, each page has another half, and the first page would also be last page in the grouping. The “sets” of pages are then glued together and set in the book.

I learned that the pages are cut last on an industrial paper-cutter, as it is difficult to measure exactness. The book binder must first get rough estimates before the final cutting, so being very sequential and methodical is good! Page 1 and page 2 most likely will not be printed next to each other, the other half of page 1 might be 25. It can seem confusing, especially with larger books. Upon examining commercially made books, we noticed even in these books that the outside margins on pages were not all exactly alike. Jennifer explained that this has to do with cutting the page groupings, and even in commercial processes sometimes it does not come out perfectly.

Interview on Traditions in Literacy: Storytime

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald

In my Twitter research adventures, I had been having some difficulty tracking down a mom who is a literary advocate and lover of books, willing to share personal information pertaining to the reading habits of herself and her kids.

So, I could decided to reach out through a means somewhat off the beaten path for me,  through Circle on Moms on Facebook. (I say, “off the beaten path” I am not yet a parent myself. ) I suppose with so many odd people being online these days, moms are extremely protective and cautious of who they connect with on the internet, particularly so when pertaining to their children. This is completely understandable, and I’m sure I would be hesitant to share information about my kids with a total stranger, even a relatively safe-looking non-insane stranger. However, I was extremely happy to have connected with Michelle Wagner, a Tennessee resident and mother to a daughter, Nyah who is nearly 2,  and son, Asher, who is still in the “baby phase,” not yet a toddler.

I arranged to conduct an interview with Michelle via e-mail to dig around and see what kinds of traditions were carried on in her family, regarding books and reading, and how these practices and attitudes have influenced Michelle, now a parent herself.

I have to confess, I was somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of someone who was not well acquainted with me, sharing personal information so freely about growing up–and family life in their home. But I was surprised at Michelle’s candor, openness, and eagerness to share with me. We seemed to connect relatively easily and discovered that we are actually quite close in age, myself having recently turned 30, and Michelle being 32.

Wagner was home-schooled along with her six other siblings, (of which she is the oldest) provided a rich environment for her love of books and reading to root deeply.

To open up the dialogue of how books came to be something held with a fond sentiment, Wager shared how she recalls the “once-a-month” trips to the library with her mom, Linda, and siblings, as part of her home-school curriculum. It was not uncommon to return home together with as many as 30 books.

“There were literally piles of books,” she said.

Linda also had a dedicated time, every day after lunch, in which she would read to Wager and her siblings. In the comfort of their home, with a nap to follow to story, the children would all gather round and attentively listen as Linda read the story. At night, before bedtime, every evening Wagner’s father, Stan, (who she affectionately refers to as “Pappa”) would spend time quality time reading a story. Usually, the book of choice would be one from the Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis. Occasionally, Wagner’s father would play story-tapes in lieu of reading from a book.

The idea behind the times of family reading was to create an activity around which to spend quality time together without distraction. Wagner shared how, for the majority of her time growing up, her family didn’t have a television or a computer; her parents were both advocates of reading as opposed to video games, or more technological forms of recreation.  

Now, with two children of her own today, Wager carries on the legacy of initiating quality time through reading to her kids from favorite books. Every week, Wagner takes her daughter Nyah to the library to browse through the floor-to-ceiling collections, pick out books of her own choosing, and enjoy a story hour in a group setting.

At home, Wagner said that Nyah likes to pick a book of her own choosing for story time, turn its pages, and hold it as mom is reading.

Answering my question of her feelings regarding reading to a child through a Kindle, Wagner said that because Nyah is so tactile, she needs to liberty to be able to interact freely and handle a book. She further shared that, since, Kindles are only a reflection of the book, in no way do they come close to offering the rich experience that a real book holds.

She said, “The physical aspect of holding a book while reading to your child, and letting them participate, is something that e-readers can’t hold a candle to.”

Now a grandmom, Linda created a special book for Nyah (prior to Asher’s birth) using Blurb.com. Linda uploaded photos of the family and included lyrics to a song that she had made up just for Nyah. Michelle shared how, for Nyah, being able to hold the book in her hands makes a big difference in her interest and being able to connect with it as a “real” object.

Wagner shared how she deeply enjoyed the ritual of having a story read to her every evening by her father, and wanted to continue on in the practice. At first Wager’s husband, Tim, a computer programmer, thought the idea of reading every night was a bit of a challenge with his taxing work schedule, but eventually, he conceded. Wagner shared how, either she or Tim will read to Nyah and Asher every evening. The young parents are committed to spending quality time with their kids, and believe that reading is also important for the development of language skills, so they make sure to practice consistency, just as Wagner’s parents did with her.

A 1938 Classic in Children’s Literature:”Babar and His Children”

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This 1938 classic children’s book, “Babar,” is now 73 years old.

Printed by the Duenewald Printing Corporation, I am uncertain of the exact age of the copy shown here, but it has been remarkably preserved, and displays a beauty of character in its scuffs and wear from decades of reading pleasure. The cover shows the wear most around the corners, and there is a piece of aged masking tape towards the base around the spine, helping to hold the book together.  Upon opening it, I am greeted with 6 more pieces of masking tape stretched across the center, no doubt they are probably several years old. Although the book is unpaginated, as I turn to the next page, I am surprised to discover that the title, the name of the author, Jean De Brunhoff,  and the words, “Translated by the French by Merle Hass, Random House New York,” is all done by hand. Perfectly. I have never had in my possession a classic, published book which has been entirely scripted freehand in cursive. Each letter, of each sentence is perfectly formed, and there is no bleed of any ink whatsoever. Yet, upon examining the form of the uppercase “C”s and the loops on the “g”s and so forth, there are very slight, almost undetectable differences. The lines are all exactly straight, and  the spacing is impeccable. Altogether, the technical mastery exemplified in the freehand lettering  is absolutely aesthetically marvelous to behold.

The style of language and use vocabulary in this children’s book is also distinctive of older eras and noticeably different than that commonly seen today in children’s books.

For example,

She hurries along on her short legs just as the carriage is about to topple over the precipice.

Alexander decides that he prefers his perambulator.

How many children’s books today would use the word perambulator?

I am not familiar with the technical term for the illustration process as seen in this classic book, however it appears that to be a type of  layered-color process. The characteristics of this vintage process, compared to modern-day processes are fascinating as they give the illustrations in Barbar and His Children a sense of human touch through their irregularity. The range of base colors is limited, however they are layered to create other pigments. For example, to produce brown, the base color is yellow, which is then overlayed with red and green. The base colors appear to be red-orange, a lemony yellow, kelly green, cornflower blue, and black. The outline of each layer is sometimes visible, thus, “giving away” what pigments have been used to create that color.  For example, when I look at the illustration of the gathering of elephants for the birth announcement of  Babar’s children, the layers of color can be seen in the clothing of the characters. Another feature of this vintage color process is that the colors are slightly offset of the image they are intended for. (Sometimes they are also not only offset, but completely outside of the image, (as seen in the illustrations of the giraffe with Babar’s family in the forest.)

However, it is exactly these kinds of irregularities that I love.

Objects of Desire

“I only like to use gel ink, only black, not blue. I like to buy pens that have a certain feel. It’s the feel of the pen in my hand, it’s the feel of how it writes on the paper. I like it dark and clear, kinda in your face. I like it to dry fast so it doesn’t smear. I love fountain pens too, but they’re just a little too archaic.”

Dr. Surace is the author of 2 books, Stepping Stones Along the Path of Life, and Power Points from the Word. The above quote is from him on his favorite writing utensil.

I was talking with him about some of the rituals and habits that take shape with being both a writer and a lover of books. (As for Dr. Surace, the two go hand-in-hand as he is a writer, but also has an extensive library. For Dr. Surace, writing is a very intimate when he is alone in his thoughts. To properly set a  mood conducive for writing, absolute silence is requisite. He shares that he writes when everyone in his family is sleeping, or he opts to go to the office. Along with the quiet of solitude, Dr. Surace says that sometime he likes to include candles and sometimes music to help get his creative juices flowing. Favorite pen in hand, he usually prefers to put his chapters on paper first. Although, the majority of his writing is composed on his laptop.

Delving into the topic at hand, we discovered that certain products possess not only a quality  of functional excellence, (which is to be expected) but actually give off a spark of inspiration which generates motivation. They cause us to want to engage in the act of writing. For Dr. Surace, using a Pilot G-2Roller Ball Retractable pen makes the sometimes grueling writing process one step easier.

Great design produces a sensory acuteness that makes the  thought process sharper, resulting in the words to shine with clarity. So, can having a writing utensil that not only works great, but is ergonomically and aesthetically pleasing really make that much of a difference? Yep. Apparently, it can and it does.


Interview Schedule

In thinking about the information I am looking to gather for my research project, I figured that my best bet in aiming to construct a diverse perspective would be to gather points of view from people of different ages, backgrounds and levels of expertise – however, all having sharing the same core connection to my research topic.

As my project has been progressing, I have been talking with people in my various social circles about my research topic. A friend of mine who, at one time, did not particularity care for books, shared with me how she took an informal course on the creative process, and ended up getting into reading some poetry – but through an unconventional means. I was curious about this, and I asked my friend if she would sharing with me the name of the person she took the informal course under. I figured, if he could get her to actually want to crack a book, there must be something to his course. So, this week I got in touch with him. Turns out that Robert Mulvaney is currently a teacher at a Cape May County high school, and also has some background in theater. He sounded like a bookworm on the phone, but not a real avid enthusiast of electronic/new media. That’s ok, conflict creates an interesting story, (and I’m always open to hear opposing views.)  I am really looking forward to talking with him about his observations in the classroom setting on how students view books these days, and how he feels the creative process ties in with sparking interest in something, where there was no prior interest.  I am not sure what direction this may take, but I’d also like to get into some discussion about the human relationship with tactile, “hands-on” experiences and the corresponding interaction with the sensory memory and information processing. Robert will be one of my in-person interviews, and we’ll be meeting this weekend, either 3/12 or 3/13.

My second, in-person interview will be with an author, Les Tomlinson Jr., who has recently published his first book, The New Song. I had seen the book for sale at my church, but I did not realize that the author actually lives relatively close to me until my dad bought a copy of the book, and I happened to read the biographical information on the back cover. I’d like to ask Les if he is considering having his book put into digital format, so as to sell on e-readers as well as in print. As a published author, I’d like to know what his take in on the publishing industry, and if he would consider it a worthwhile investment to branch into the having his work available online.Granted, Les is a newly minted author, so he is no Stephen King (yet!), but I would still like to hear his thoughts on how he feels having (or not having) his work in digital format would increase profit for him. Les and I are planning on meeting the week of March 20th.

Using some of my own new media connections, I downloaded Circle of Moms app on my Facebook account and proceeded to try and get to know some new moms. Thinking back to the discussion we had in Core 2 with Dr. Wolff last Tuesday, I wanted to look into how moms interact with their little one using books. I ended up connecting with mom, Michelle, who lives in TN, and has a toddler and a five-month-old. Michelle shared with me how her own mom, Linda, used Blurb to create custom books for her two grandchildren, and now the whole family enjoys this personalized, book-making technology. Blurb showcases Linda’s books with high resolution, colorful photos of the family, along with text, which are lyrics to songs that Linda sings with the kids. Michelle shared how her kids love turning the pages, looking at the photos, and hearing Linda sing – sometimes they even sing back! It seems that having these books creates a very special bonding time between Linda, Michelle and the kids, and this bond using books as a vehicle is what I would like to explore. I would also like to ask if Michelle or Linda would ever consider reading to the kids using a Nook or a Kindle, (if they had one), and why, or, why not. Additionally, I am curious to ask Michelle if/ how often/ what kind of books Linda read to her when she was little. If her mom read to her when she was little, did it build degree of  fondness for books which Michelle enjoys today? Michelle and I plan to convene online either 3/19 or 3/20.

For my second online interview, I am still waiting to hear back from a couple of folks that I had contacted earlier last week. I have yet to hear back from them, but I will give it another shot. But, as you have heard it said before, the squeaky wheel gets the oil! These are people in the book designing industry and most likely, they are probably really, REALLY busy. I also feel that having their perspective is vital as it really grounds the research on my topic.  So, instead of settling, I’m hanging in there for now and if, in the next couple of days I don’t hear back, I’ll update this post to include an alternate choice.

More to come soon!