In Praise of Books

25 Feb

In Praise of Books

First published in The Montserrat Review (April 2009)

When I first began reading, as a child in Tokyo, Japan during the Korean War, it was paper that fascinated me—the exquisite local stationery we used for our childish lessons; the artisan paper used for sumi-e, origami, and other arts. My senses were engaged even as I slogged through the most prosaic reading. Of course, the following years were filled with school texts and those wonderful library books encased in plastic and marked with each book’s history of being read. Towards the end of my school years, in Baltimore, Maryland, I discovered the city’s old books stores and their musty, dusty atmosphere permeated my bibliophilia. By that time, I was a confirmed book-lover and a voracious reader. In the antiquarian shops, I became acquainted with the beauty of artisan-printed books, albeit only those in late stages of decay. More important than their material aspects, these books faithfully recorded the voices of past ages—I fell in love with the English language, itself.

In college (Towson State, now Towson University), I majored in English literature, began writing poetry and short fiction in earnest, and ended up editing the college literary magazine, Talisman. That was my first experience with publishing, but not much experience really. Other than layout, the whole process was contracted out and funded by the college. In 1975, another poet and I formed our own little press and published a chapbook including both our collections. This time, my experience was far more hands-on, but the printing was, again, a sort of black box into which one could not peer. Nevertheless, I treasured the little saddle-stitched chapbook we produced and published. It took several decades to get rid of them all.

The rest of the 20th century, I worked in a government office and my writing was all non-fiction, technical work. During that period, xerography came into full bloom and early word-processors made producing photo-ready pages a simple task. I did a great deal of non-fiction publishing on religious subjects during the ’80s and into the ’90s using word-processing, photocopying, and various binding methods available at the then broad range of quick-copy franchises. These methods worked well despite cost issues since religious publishing in small niche markets can involve a strong demand from a tiny audience. For the first time, I experienced the power of print as my titles got spread around the world and I had to deal with reprint and translation requests. I was stunned to learn by experience how simple newsletters get passed around and spread much farther afield than one could reasonably expect.

In the last year of the 20th century, I turned back to publishing poetry with the founding of Haiku Harvest, a print poetry journal as well as an online magazine. From 2000–2006 HH went through eleven issues on a somewhat irregular schedule. Ultimately, it was compiled into a single volume trade paperback and continues to sell as such today. This was a turning point for my publishing efforts. By that time, I had been making websites online for several years, learning in the process a little about the publishing revolution the internet has facilitated. I decided to both publish the journal in a print edition for sale and, at the same time, give it away free online as a digital edition. Why? Well, I wanted the print journal for all the many reasons that books have always been important, but I knew from experience how limited sales would be. With the digital edition, the journal could be read by so many more people, all around the world, for free and, after all, having poetry actually read by people is THE reason for publication so far as I am concerned. Time proved both expectations correct: the print editions sold very little and the digital edition readership climbed to 80,000 in 2005–2006. The journal is archived online (on this blog) and is still being read by even more people.

In 2005, I decided print-on-demand (POD) printing looked like an improvement upon the model I was then using (viz., creating galley proofs of issues using desktop publishing and a software program that printed the two-sided proofs in correct page order; then printing by photocopy). The POD concept eliminates the old “boxes of books getting moldy in the garage” problem that has always bedeviled small publishers. It took me months of investigating POD before I would try it because a number of POD vendors adopted some practices of vanity publishing. Ultimately, I chose for its maximization of author/publisher freedom and control over the product. In 2006, I began doing business as Modern English Tanka Press (MET Press) using Lulu as my printing and distribution vendor. We are still with Lulu today.

The use of POD methods allows my one-man show, MET Press, to publish perfect bound trade paperbacks, paperbacks in a variety of sizes and shapes from pocket books to letter size books, and hard cover books, either with a dust jacket or case-wrapped. The quality of physical production matches or exceeds many upscale publishers. The downside of POD books is that printing is a bit more expensive and the cost of shipping and handling, necessarily, is greatly increased when books are being shipped on a single unit basis.

Dozens of titles and thousands of sales later, the POD model is still working well for me.

Today, several of MET Press’ journals are being published simultaneously as print journals, as PDF ebooks, and as free online digital editions. We keep our overhead very low and our print sales are able to support these journals. The sale of ebooks has been quite slow so far. While claims great demand for their ebooks, we have yet to see many readers purchase our ebooks. However, readers in some countries, for various reasons, find buying a print book and getting it delivered to them between very difficult and impossible, so we have continued with the ebooks just for them. Of course, the readership grows and grows for the free digital editions online. The business pays for itself and we are getting poetry to many thousands, perhaps millions, around the world. We won’t get rich from this business, but we can claim success in truly publishing poetry to a wide and enthusiastic readership. That is enough for me.

One might reasonably ask: Why continue the print editions? After all, they account for most of the costs in our overhead and make just a little more than they cost. Ah, . . . because I love books. I love huge leatherbound altar missals and tiny vest pocket prayerbooks; I love slick paperbacks with eye-candy covers and carrying convenience; I love hard cover books I can wrap my arms around, or pound on the desk, when I have finished them the first time. If there is one thing that I have heard over and over and over again from our customers, it is: “there is something about the feel of a book in my hands.” I can only nod, because I know that “something” and I love it.

I know some commentators believe print may simply die because everything will be available digitally, on the internet or cell phone or ebook reader. Perhaps generational change will kill print, but not anytime soon. I am by no means alone in loving books.

Books are more than just pages bound into a cover. Book designing and cover designing are both professions with highly skilled practitioners. Font design is a world unto itself, as is bookbinding. When one learns how books are made, how pages are designed, how fonts are created and set, one can come to fully appreciate the art of the book. Perhaps many bibliophiles never do learn all these things. Loving books comes from using them in a context of curiosity, inquiry, wonder, delight, and all the emotions known to mankind. Books have taken me forward and backward in time, to lands I will never see, to situations I will never inhabit. Books have allowed me to glimpse the souls of poets and authors in ways otherwise unthinkable. A simple bound volume can act like a time machine or a window into fantastic and exotic worlds.

Yes, every word in a bound book can be replicated digitally and read on electronic devices. The content certainly survives the translation but does the experience survive intact? I suspect it does not but only time and the experiences of millions of readers will ever answer the question. All I can say for certain is that there is something about the feel of a book in my hands . . .

Denis M. Garrison
Baltimore, Maryland
April 2009

© 2009 Denis M. Garrison
First published in The Montserrat Review (April 2009)

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Articles & Essays



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Lens and Pens by Sally

a weekly blog that creates a personal philosophy through photographs and words

Belinda Broughton

illustration, art n poetry (by Belinda Broughton)

Life After Carbs

A real person eating (mostly) real food

the other bunny

for the other kind of haibun


where all the trash in my head pours out as poetry. Enjoy!


"Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back." ... these are my songs and whispers.

Failed Haiku

A Journal of English Senryu

All Things Tanka

News and information about tanka


an open journal

Charlotte Digregorio's Writer's Blog

This is a writer's blog for authors, business people, creative people, freelancers, journalists, publishers, and poets. They will learn the ins and outs of writing for publication. Both beginning and experienced writers will profit from it.


poetry by j matthew waters

In The Hive Poetry Thoughts Stories Photo's Art (copyright by

Bending moments

This site is the cat’s pajamas


4 out of 5 dentists recommend this site

Lilly coyote's haiku den

Home to haiku, haibun, haiga, and a few stray poems


Just another site

Jars of Stars

... some of the best micropoetry from Twitter, kept alive in jars...

this empty nest

photos and images by angie werren


contemporary haiku since 1994


Truth is a pain to accept


Incomplete Thots...


"As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing." T.S.Eliot

The Bonny Blog

photography ● poetry ● quotations

Awoodlandrose's Blog

The Poetry of Soil

tom clausen

poems and photos

%d bloggers like this: