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Thursday, September 7, 2023


After two recent and life-altering experiences - the death of a close friend and mentor, and the diagnosis of cancer and course of chemotherapy - it comes as no surprise that I'm heading into 2024 with a new perspective on life. A large part of this has been the emergence of wanting to learn and master the mechanics, production and preservation of books. In retrospect the focus on bookbinding was an obvious choice and when I first looked into bookbinding after researching monograms I had an 'aha' moment, before questioned why I had never thought to look into it before. When I mentioned my desire to become a bookbinder to a close friend he replied: "I never realised it but that's actually the perfect career for you." I don't know how feasible the world of bookbinding is a career, but I'm willing to find out. I'm reminded of a career idea once given to me by an aunt: “…surely wealthy book collectors would pay for someone to fly around the world to search for that missing book from their collection.” A fabulous idea, unfortunately I am yet to gain the connections and means to make it happen, though perhaps the qualifications of being a bookbinder would help.
My love of books really started at around the age of ten when an uncle took me to Lore Books in Lyneham and bought me a fine hardcover, complete with dust jacket, edition of ‘The Hobbit’. Returning home with my newly prized gift, little did I know then that it would be the start of a lifelong passion into collecting and reading books. It was the same uncle who a few years later introduced me to (and has since kindly contributed greatly to) my Oxford World’s Classic collection. Though many others have also encouraged me to read and have contributed to my ever growing library. Including, naturally, my high school English teacher who gave me a book of short stories stolen straight from the English department storeroom to read ‘Flowers for Algernon’, followed by a personal and battered copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’, a newer copy of ‘East of Eden’ and rather more ambitiously (and on reflection perhaps amusingly on his part) ‘The decline and fall of the Roman Empire’.
I have spent countless hours over the years wandering through bookshops, new and used, slowly building a never ending pile of books I’m still due to read. One find in around 2008 was a 1911 faux-leather bound edition of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Inside, stuck between the end paper and the first page, was a handwritten note expressing Christmas wishes from mum and dad to its original owner, which could only be read when held up to the light. Intrigued, I tried to open the pages with the assistance of steam, to no avail. On a second attempt I unfortunately ripped the page slightly and got annoyed and upset with the whole thing that I gave up (and have since given the book away). Though it instilled in me a desire to learn and gain the skills to to have successfully pried those pages open. 
It was during the second Covid lockdown that I found myself pondering a career change, although I enjoy hospitality and have certainly had some wonderful experiences and met some great people, returning to the industry after the first lockdown was simply awful. Additionally, and due to no fault of my own, my then Function Manager position was under threat of becoming redundant. It was also around this time that I had watched the complete series of the BBC production ‘The Repair Shop’ and was mesmerised by the enormous talent and love the restores had for their craft. It reminded me of spending weekends as a kid in the countryside and attending auctions with an aunt and late uncle, who used to spend his leisure time restoring antique furniture. I was always amazed at how he would take a heap of wood deserving of the junkyard and totally transform it into a piece worthy of Government House; installing in me an appreciation for not just antiques but the value of restoration. When my position eventually become redundant I had a brief fling with the idea of returning to university to study conservation, with an interest in paper. Though before I knew it another hospitality opportunity too good to refuse presented itself and the idea was put on the back burner. 
That was in late 2021 and a few days before I started my new adventure I attended the wedding of dear friends held at Bookbarn just outside of Bowral, New South Wales. Fittingly, they gifted each guest a used and personally selected second-hand book complete with a handwritten message inside. Mine was a copy of ‘Advance Bookbinding’ by J. Kay (1936).