The Alcuin Society announced its list of the best-designed books in Canada last week, and a few Gaspereau Press productions merited a mention. This year four of my book designs were selected – one first, a second, and two honourable mentions.
One of the categories we usually do well in is the poetry category. While you’d think that poetry would be the very heartland of well-designed books, I’ve come to believe that the opposite is true. Of all the genres, trade publishers seem to invest the least money and attention in the design and production of poetry books, sending many of our culture’s most astonishing literary accomplishments into the world in rather shabby, thoughtless dress, ill-equipped for their journey through the ages. But not so at Gaspereau.
This year, the design of Paul Tyler’s poetry book, A Short History of Forgetting, was awarded first prize by the Alcuin judges. It is set in my customized version of Fournier, accompanied by my own Memorial Hall ornaments. (Fittingly, the ornaments are based on the borders of the stained-glass windows in Memorial Hall at the university of New Brunswick, windows I first noticed while attending Ross Leckie’s poetry weekend a couple of years ago.)
The jacket for Paul Tyler’s A Short History of Forgetting
A spread from Paul Tyler’s A Short History of Forgetting
We took second place in the Reference section for a very different sort of book, St. Andrews Architecture, 1604–1966 by Fredericton architect John Leroux and photographer Thaddeus Holownia. Vancouver type designer Ross Mills was kind enough to let me use a pre-release version of his new type face, Huronia, for this book, which had just the right wonky and warm arts-and-crafts feel about it to bring the text alive on the book’s coated paper. One of the challenges with a book like this is (as usual) to balance form and function. It was important to me that it occupy a place between a compact guidebook and a large-format photography book, drawing on the strengths of both approaches to arrive at a book that was portable, function and beautiful all at once. (This book also has a Memorial Hall flower on the title page, given that John Leroux was the one who pointed me to the windows in the first place.)
The Cover of St. Andrews Architecture
The title page of St. Andrews Architecture
A spread from St. Andrews Architecture
The honourable mentions were both in the Prose Non-fiction category (in which the judges awarded no second or third place prizes). Tim Bowling’s In the Suicide’s Library and Peter Sanger’s Through Darkling Air are quite different books, and not typical of the books which usually win in this category.
Bowling’s book is a memoir about mid-life, bibliomania and 20th century American poetry, with special attention to the life of the poet Weldon Kees. Jack McMaster made a beautiful illustration for the jacket, and I set the book in one of the best-ever American book types, Electra, designed by W.A. Dwiggins. I’ve designed a number of books in Electra, but I think that this is the first one in which I’ve actually managed to use the type in the media of offset printing with anything approaching the impact that it has in letterpress. I’ve given this book to a number of bibliophiles and booksellers, and every one of them have raved about it. I think time will demonstrate it to be one of those Gaspereau ‘classics’ like Clarke’s Execution Poems, McKay’s Vis à Vis, or Terpstra’s Falling Into Place.
Jack McMaster’s illustration for the jacket of In the Suicide’s Library
The illustration spun into a pattern for the inner cover of In the Suicide’s Library
The wordy title page of In the Suicide’s Library
A chapter opening from In the Suicide’s Library
Sanger’s Through Darkling Air is an unconventional publication as well, being Sanger’s extensive study of the life and poetry of Richard Outram. It was casebound by hand at Gaspereau with colour plates illustrating many of Outram’s rare broadsides and books issued by his Gauntlet Press. Set in Minion Pro, this is the most extensive publications to be issued by Gaspereau – other than the forthcoming edition of Jan Zwicky’s Lyric Philosophy.
The jacket and wrapper for Through Darkling Air
The printed cloth cover for Through Darkling Air
The printed endpapers for Through Darkling Air
A spread from Through Darkling Air
For a complete list of this year’s Alcuin winners, and a list of locations where the books will be exhibited in the months to come, you can visit the Alcuin Society’s web site.
In the meantime, we’re all hard at work on this year’s new crop of books, starting with poetry books by Sean Howard (Incitements), George Elliott Clarke (Red) , and Jan Zwicky (Forge). George and Sean will be reading in Toronto at our annual Poetry Tra-la on April 20th, in conjuction with Coach House Press, Signal Editions, and Ben McNally Books (info to follow).
By the way, if you are wondering why you haven’t seen a Gaspereau Press catalogue, it’s because we didn’t issue one this spring, opting instead to invest time and resources in overhauling our web site (coming soon!) and, well, recovering from last fall’s Sentimentalists shenanigans, which left us extremely behind in our regularly scheduled work. We’ll be issuing a larger catalogue in early summer to get things back on track.
ANDREW STEEVES ¶ PRINTER & PUBLISHER