Sue Doggett,
(Watson-Guptill, 1998)

I've been making my own books for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, the stapler was my friend. I'd write silly kid-stories and illustrate them, then fold pieces of notebook paper to make my own books or newspapers. As I got older, that turned to 'zines and webpages, and even disappeared for awhile during the marriage-from-hell.

Since escaping from that time period, I've been rediscovering a love of bookmaking, though in a more "sophisticated" way. I've purchased kits and specialty papers, and restarted my 'zine, mostly done by computer. When the basic pamphlet (8 1/2" x 11" folded in half and stapled) lost its appeal, I started looking for a book that had more complex forms in mind.

That's how I first found Bookworks.

Bookworks is an advanced course in two kinds of bookmaking: the accordian fold, which looks like a fan, and the codex binding, which is the kind of hardcover book we see all the time, with spines and sewn-in pages. Even though it's a survey of those two types of bookmaking procedures, both have myriad incarnations from very simple to extremely complex. Bookworks covers a great deal of those known methods.

Doggett has chosen a large-format for Bookworks. Larger than a standard page and squared, the book contains a lot of information for its 144 pages -- complete with hand-drawn illustrations to guide you through the sometimes-confusing techniques.

It's generally said that learning how to make bookforms can only be done effectively through hands-on classes or videos, and this book proves that theory wrong. Doggett's illustrations are clear and well-done, often clearing up any ambiguity in the text. For the total beginner or the bookmaking apprentice, this book still may be a bit confusing, but there is a glossary helpfully located at the beginning of the book to familiarize you with the terminology.

Some people in the book arts community have said that the directions listed in Bookworks aren't clear enough. They say that following along precisely as ordered in the instructions will yield you a different result than expected. Although I agree with this somewhat, I also feel that with any creative endeavor that's in print, doing is a better way of learning than reading. Even if all the instructions in Bookworks were completely wrong, it is a valuable way to find ideas -- which can be of more value at times than step-by-step instructions. I have also found that for the basics, this book is relatively clear in its presentation.

Since there is no softcover yet available, Bookworks is pricey, as art books tend to be, leaving little for buying supplies unless you have a large allocation of free resources. If you aren't a die-hard binding enthusiast or you don't have a lot of disposable income, I'd suggest one of the cheaper, less comprehensive books to start with.

The only other complaint I have is that the galleries are often not long enough or detailed enough. Some of the photos -- though well-taken -- are lost in the gutter (the center of the page) and almost unviewable. Others only have one view of a type of binding and end up being unhelpful.

There is one thing that Bookworks is definitely not short on -- creativity. The basic two kinds of design are given many, many lives and incarnations, ranging from a very simple sewn binding to an extremely complex hardcover dos-a-dos codex binding. (Dos-a-dos: a type of binding where there are two books back to back, each facing a different way, with independent front covers and a shared back cover.) For the creative among us, this book is like your own personal Wizard of Oz, doling out ideas and creative courage from nothing at all.

Though the pictured examples are sometimes unhelpful in construction, they are still extremely valuable from a creative standpoint. As I mentioned, they are well-taken photographs, clear and in color, as is the rest of the book. The galleries help you in taking the standard as-instructed projects and turning them into your own personal art books or journals.

Doggett's writing style is also a plus, in the areas where she writes other than just how-to directions. She seems friendly and clear.

As mentioned, there is a basic binder's glossary at the front that can help you understand other books on this subject. There are fantastic recipes for bookbinder's wheat paste (used for the cover cloths), and paste paper ideas. She goes over the ways to decorate basic paper -- collage, dying, spattering, photocopies, paste paper, marbling. For each, she gives directions, even if only perfunctory ones. At the end, she lists specific projects that start small and move forward, which can assist the new binder in learning the basic techniques of both styles of books.

One of the best, and most unusual bindings is the "Poem Book" near the end that is a series of tiny connected frames that contain acetate with words sandwiched between layers, so that your finished product looks more like a sculpture than a book. Doggett really understands and tries to convey that bookbinding is, above all, an art form.

If you're interested in bookbinding as a hobby, this might not be a bad place to start. I would probably recommend reading it in conjunction with another book (LaPlantz's Cover to Cover comes to mind as an introductory resource, for example), rather than on its own. If you have some experience with bindings, this might be just the shot in the arm that your creativity needs to move into a new direction.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]
Rambles: 30 March 2002

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