Tag Archives: Interview

Post-Interview Reflection: Dr. Andrew P. Surace

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.

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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 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!