08 March 2013

Two Nights in Toronto

I’ve just returned from two days in Toronto where I was hanging around with some of my favourite book people. I started with an evening with Tim and Elke Inkster north of the city in Erin.

On Monday I hung out with the gang at Coach House Books which is ground zero for all my Toronto excursions. Stan Bevington took me over to Massey College to meet the new college printer, Nelson Adams (who worked at Coach House back in the early days), and to see a small exhibition of work by William Rueter of the Aliquando Press. After this, we went to Swipe Books to hear Rod McDonald give a talk on the pioneering graphic designer Carl Dair. This event was to celebrate the University of Toronto Press’s revival of Dair’s influential and hitherto out of print book Design With Type.

Rod McDonald about to deliver his Dair talk

Canada Type’s Patrick Griffin at the Dair talk

Type designers Patrick Griffin and Kevin King in the foreground, with Coach House’s Stan Bevington in the middle.

Rod’s talk was excellent – it was standing room only. But I was extremely disappointed to discover that this edition of Design With Type was ‘printed’ using some sort of short-run digital device and not an offset press. The paper was awful. The reproduction process had swollen the type terribly and everything looked like a bad colour photocopy. It’s a sham of a book, a shadow of its former self. And yet, the price has gone up. Unbelievable! I could hardly stifle my anger – but I did, because I didn’t want to hurt Swipe’s sales; they are a wonderful bookstore.

You might think that this sort of lesser-quality reprint is at least better than the book being unavailable, but I disagree. Something worth doing is worth doing correctly, and I suspect that if the book had simply been dropped by U of T Press rather than brought back in this half-assed fashion that either Coach House Books or Gaspereau Press would have stepped up and undertaken a proper reprint, so important is this book to Canadian design. As it stands, the book’s new form contradicts its content. I think this technology has its place, but it is being too liberally applied by university presses in particular. I also think it’s wrong to pass a bound colour photocopy job off as being the equivalent of a well-printed book. They are as different as apples and oranges.

On Tuesday, I cleared my head by hiding in the printshop library at Massey College in the morning, and then in the reading room of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in the afternoon, looking at some things I can’t find in small-town Nova Scotia – like this book published by the French punchcutter Pierre Haultin in 1587 (below) housed at the Fisher.

That evening, I delivered the Leon Katz Memorial Lecture for the Friends of the Fisher. The lecture is available online if you go to this site and scroll down to Tuesday, 5 March 2013, The Leon Katz Memorial Lecture. The talk was titled The Stacks School of Typography. George Elliott Clarke gave a rousing introduction.

Canada Type’s Patrick Griffin and Kevin King at my Fisher Rare Book Library lecture, with Kevin’s script on the blackboard



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