Here’s a round up of five fiction and nonfiction books about our beloved material, Paper! The Paper Lovers just came out, and I was so intrigued with the title and the cover art that I purchased it immediately. The two fiction books feature characters who make paper, and the three nonfiction books are filled with interesting facts and stories about paper. I’m still waiting for a feature film about hand papermaking (well, maybe an independent film). Have you seen Between the Folds?
Nicholas A. Basbanes, 2013
As an investigative journalist, Basbanes traveled the world (literally) to uncover all sorts of intriguing facts and stories about paper. He tells us how paper has been civilization’s constant companion, preserving our history and giving record to our very finest literary, cultural, and scientific accomplishments. Without paper, modern hygienic practice would be unimaginable; as currency, people will do almost anything to possess it; and, as a tool of expression, it is inextricable from human culture. The book ends with a touching story about a piece of paper with a handwritten note on it that was found ten years after 9/11.
I am currently reading this book, and it took 50 pages to reach the introduction to Polly, the hand papermaker. The book is set in the UK, and she discovers papermaking on a cave tour in Wales (perhaps the author has visited Wookey Hole in England). His descriptions of papermaking are accurate (he points out the texture, thickness and deckled edges). The business that Polly runs is super cool too – she sells her handmade papers as well as others’ plus stationery items, and she offers workshops and plans to publish books on her own paper. But I digress… from the book jacket: “The Paper Lovers is a devastating story of sexual, religious and artistic obsession.” It’s a good read so far!
Lothar Müller, 2014
In White Magic, Müller describes how paper made its way from China through the Arab world to Europe, where it permeated everyday life in a variety of formats from the thirteenth century onwards, and how the industrial revolution paved the way for paper to “course through the veins of civilization. Translated from Müller’s native German, White Magic takes a fascinating view into the humble technology of paper and the many ways that it has been used to transmit knowledge and serve many other functions throughout the ages.
Audrey Niffenegger, 2003
Papermaking plays a very small role in this book about Henry, a librarian and Clare, a papermaker. It is a captivating love story (I read it in one sitting on a long plane flight) about Henry, who time travels involuntarily and Clare, whose life takes a natural sequential course. They end up getting married, although Henry almost misses the wedding due to a time travel episode. Niffenegger was integral in the formation of the book and paper center at Columbia College Chicago. She is an artist as well, creating artist’s books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics. The Time Traveler’s Wife was made into a Hollywood movie.
Mark Kurlansky, 2017
Kurlansky writes about mundane topics that he makes interesting: salt, paper, cod, and milk, among other subjects. Packed with interesting stories and facts, Kurlansky briskly surveys other substrates – everything from Chinese oracle bones, cuneiform tablets and Egyptian papyrus to Mexican amate — the bark-based writing material, not a true paper, on which the Aztecs wrote. He also includes a section on the way that artists have used paper. Listen to Kurlansky talk about the book with papermaker Donna Koretsky on Leonard Lopate’s radio show.
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