In room 111 of the Seattle Public Library central service center, Donald Vass works with glue, iron, paper, and wood to repair books damaged by age, overuse, and mechanical handling. With no apprentice in training, he may be the last to practice the almost medical art of book-mending on our library’s aging circulation.
And that’s a shame: not just because the craft is beautiful, but because the practice of repair reflects an attitude of compassion and care that we badly need right now.
Mr. Vass said the skills of book mending took him 15 years to master — how to diagnose a book’s ills, what to patch and what to leave alone, how to hide evidence of a repair. He uses hypodermic needles to shoot bits of wheat paste into the corners of dog-eared covers to stiffen them, and an old-fashioned screw press to hold pages in place while adhesives dry.
He talks of his repaired books — 60 to 80 a month — as if they were children heading out into a dangerous, unpredictable world.
“I’m reluctant, many times, to send them out because I know what they’re going to be up against,” said Mr. Vass, a soft-spoken man who is used to working alone.
In another small room, this one in Anchorage, Kathy Burek practices a very different craft: she autopsies wild animals to find out how they died. Burek has an otter’s-eye view on climate change (in this case, otter 13, tagged and followed and ultimately found on a beach with no identifiable cause of death). For a few days, Christopher Solomon played Watson to this Sherlock Holmes of the Alaskan ecosystem.
We arrived at a lab at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where Burek is an adjunct professor. The room was small, with white walls, a steel table at the center, and a drain in the floor. Burek pulled on a pair of rubber Grundens crabbing bibs the color of traffic cones, stepped into the tall boots from the minivan, and pulled her hair back. She could have been headed for a day of dip-netting for sockeye on the Kenai. An assistant laid out tools.
A big pair of garden shears sat on the counter, as foreboding as Chekhov’s gun on the mantle.
“You’re probably gonna want to put on gloves for this,” she said.
Midrank comedian and ex-Intel engineer Dan Nainan lied about his age to the media. And then again, and again, and again, until the lie itself became news. In this Moebius strip of a story, Ben Collins tracks Nainan’s protean public personas and confronts him with the truth. But the truth is no match for Dan Nainan …
Finally, I laid it all out. I have official state documents with his real age on them. They’re public records. His timeline with Intel doesn’t make any sense. He gives different ages at different times depending on which publication he’s talking to. It’s all over. It’s OK. The jig is up.
So tell me, are you 35 or 55?
Then a pause.
“I’m 35,” he said. “The mistake is in my birth record.”
An excellent perspective from Jed Gottlieb on how the migration of arts criticism out of newspapers and into niche publications affects the audience for art itself — and why show reviews should continue to appear side-by-side with the score from Friday’s homecoming game.
Arts publicists see the scope of the problem with even more clarity than writers. For decades they have used radio, TV, and newspapers to break clients in new markets. Radio and TV cater to eager fans—people who listen to alternative rock radio want to hear new alternative rock; viewers who tune into Conan are willing to embrace an unknown stand up comic. But papers traditionally speak to a wider audience ...
“Newspapers are where most investigative journalism originates from, so it’s scary,” music publicist Jim Flammia of All Eyes Media says. “But it’s also scary for me professionally because I need places for our artists to get covered. My artists make their money on the road, so regional coverage is more important than national coverage, and that regional coverage comes from newspapers.”
To close on a slightly different note: This week Jason Kottke highlighted photographer Michael Wolf, especially the series Architecture of Density, which captures “the immense scale of [Hong Kong’s] apartment buildings and the smallness of the apartment they contain,” and Tokyo Compression, images of Japanese train commuters, “smushed into cars dampened by the heat of humanity.” These are great images that — a little like Edward Burtynsky’s — lead us right into the uncanny valley of our increasingly crowded, increasingly globalized world.