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Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue, Keith Smith

Known both for his artist’s books and textbooks on bookmaking, Keith Smith favorably adds to his impressive body of work with his newest text, Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue. This is the third in the series of textbooks, joining Structure of the Visual Book and Text in the Book Format.

In Non-Adhesive Binding, Smith provides the technical details of building a book, adding another dimension to the more conceptual directives of the two previous books. This does not mean conceptual matters are ignored here. In fact, it is the combination of the technical and the conceptual that makes this valuable work unlike any “how-to” book. As part of the preparation for binding in one section, Smith states: “Binding serves content,” “…the physical, conceptual, and visual decisions are interwoven,” and “…if the binding dominated, the book would be superficial.” Thoughtful and investigative comments such as these frame the more practical directions for binding. The voice of the commentary is not that of an anonymous textbook writer, but of Keith Smith- a very patient teacher, never condescending, who is totally immersed in the Gestalt of the book. His sensitivity as a teacher is evident in the fine points which are usually limited in technique books: inclusion of left-and right-handed sewing procedures; suggestions for covers for each binding and tips on those that should not be used; and the generous acknowledgment of those who taught him particular bindings.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first, Smith develops an “approach” to binding by setting up the parameters of both the mental objective and the physical object. He advises that Part One should be read before doing any of the actual techniques that follow. Most people do not read a “how-to” text from cover to cover sequentially; rather, they pick and choose the pages appropriate to a particular object. In this case, that would mean missing out on some very special musings. A particularly thought-provoking section includes Smith’s playful yet introspective exploration of the possibilities of one piece of paper, folded once.

Part Two contains the directions for thirty-two sewn bindings, ranging from easy pamphlet stitching to embellished sewing patterns such as long stitch and sewn concertinas. With a minimum of specialized jargon, the directions for each binding are first spelled out in detail. Each “elaborated procedure” is accompanied by clear drawings, sewing diagrams, and photographs of completed books. Following the elaborated procedure is a condensed one. The technical information is additive, starting with very simple forms. The beginning bookbinder should be able to progress through the bindings, from the simple to the more complex, by being patient and careful. At first the amount of detail may be overwhelming to the uninitiated, who will need to flip back and forth between the step-by-step directions and the diagrams. Rather than just reading the steps, it may be helpful for the beginner to work on dummy materials to get a feel for the techniques.

Hand Papermaking Magazine
Volume 6, No. 2, Winter 1991