When words are all around you

Photo by Theresa Barker.

Here’s an excerpt from a new idea I’m playing around with.


After José Saramago

The stacks of books and papers on her desk, the tumble of folio, recto and verso, that spilled across two, no, four, no, five tables, sturdy wooden dark standing tables surrounded her and constituted the workshop of Viola the bookbinder. Bookbinding was an old art. Not the oldest art in the world by any means, but one of the oldest in history. A piece of literate history, anyway. She connected to it that way, endpapers and headlines, folios and book covers, illustrations, words, texts. The soul of a book was more than the sum of its parts. If her father had not taught her bookbinding she might have become a scientist or a rabbi, yes, they did have women rabbis these days, ever since the 1970s. And when her friends had gone off after college in the 1980s to become Wall Street traders or go to law school – so many lawyers in her crowd of college compatriots – Viola set up her workshop on the third floor of a 1920s brick building in her childhood neighborhood, a room with an abundance of natural light and a wealth of passing people who waited at the bus stop for downtown or went into the park opposite. She used to hope when she first saw the place that the walls held secrets, that ghosts of the previous tenants would keep her company on those long days of hand-binding books on her work tables. She used to listen to NPR all day when she first started, until she gave up on news radio. Now it was the local jazz station alternating Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, with a little Brubeck thrown in. The jazz music would strangely suit the rhythms of fitting the hard boards in their cloth covers, gauging the gutter and setting the foot and, anchoring the signatures into the text block. Music was a little-known companion to books, Viola often thought, and the playlist of her day took her into history and back to the present as she formed the hand-bound books for her customers, many of them Asian or European, where the book had long been conveyor and purveyor of a certain economic class. Gauze, cardboard, and adhesive. Hinge and corner. Top edge. Footband.

Thanks for reading!

Happy writing!


20 thoughts on “When words are all around you

  1. Lovely anecdote, Theresa. I really like how you made bookbinding a subject in this peace. It’s something that most of us don’t really do anymore, and seemingly dying out with the push for ‘digital by default’. I do notice many university students still like binding their notes 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really? That’s so interesting about students binding their notes. It does make it more handy. We all hear dire predictions of the death of (paper) books, and here we are, well into the 21st century and books are still here! In fact, I read recently that ebooks have had a decline in recent years, not sure if the decline was in growth or in actual numbers of ebooks. There must still be something in having the feel of a book in one’s hands rather than reading electronic dots on a screen. 🙂

      Thank you for commenting! I’m thinking of making a sequence of “occupational profiles” and seeing if it works into some kind of narrative. Have you read José Saramago’s “Skylight”? i stumbled across it recently and I really enjoy it. I wrote this piece as a sort of homage to his writing. It’s his first-written novel (he was a Portuguese Nobel laureate writer), and I find it more approachable than later work. 🙂

      Have a wonderful day, Mabel!


      1. Yeah, many university students here like binding their printed notes. It’s a handy way of keeping things in one place and easy to flip through, as opposed to filing everything in a file where it can all drop out.

        Haven’t heard of José Saramago’s “Skylight”. I’ll have to put it on my reading list. You have a wonderful weekend, Theresa 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy, I love that you have figured out that music doesn’t work for your creative process. I can picture you at your computer doing the edits and not having anything playing in the background. Cool!

      Thank you again for being such a wonderful and consistent audience for my stuff. I am thinking of experimenting with a sequence of “occupational” vignettes or profiles like this one, and seeing if they take me into some kind of narrative. Hearing you liked it, along with a couple of other readers’ comments, gives my confidence a boost. Hah!

      p.s. About music, I’m learning I like to have non-word music on while I’m writing, but not too emotive. So baroque instrumental music is good, but I usually avoid Beethoven and the other Romanticists. 🙂


      1. Both of my children study with music in the background, something that just seems so foreign to me. I’m pretty sensitive to visual and audio stimulus, so it’s not really too surprising to me that music in the background for me is pretty much a non-starter.
        The vignettes are a good idea as a starting point I would think, like a scene setter for whatever comes next.
        Also, I enjoying reading your posts, it’s an interesting study in the similarities and differences across creative disciplines.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Amy! Thanks, as always, for reading my little excerpts and expressing your response to them. I learn so much – really! – from your reactions. It’s a gift!

        The vignettes are a thought I have about “sneaking my way” into a longer narrative. As you know I’ve been stuck and I find the creative mind balks when it suspects the writing is dull or too routine. Hah! So, I’m experimenting with some ways of keeping the creative process fresh without it being just completely random. Do you find yourself ever having a reaction to your work like that? I’d love to hear.

        And, I have to say I feel the same way about reading your posts. Somehow between our two contexts for creative work – photography and writing – there are interesting compatibilities and contrasts, as you say. It reminds me that at times my son (a painter) and I had conversations about the painting and writing process and what we could learn from each other. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. So I read this comment, then wandered off and wrote my weekly wrap-up so I’d have a few minutes to kind of think over what you were asking here. This is what I’m thinking, which may be a variation on what you are asking and not a direct answer. I think quite a bit about what my “style” or “vision” might be. Like an overarching similarity that makes all my photographs mine. Like when I look at a Hopper painting, I recognize it, even if it’s new to me. But the tension on the flip side of that is, is my work then not evolving at all and just an assembly line? or am I changing just for the sake of change? both of those things are problematic.
        It’s like grappling with my own mind while trying to take and edit photos, messier than one might expect.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I LIKE that touchstone of thinking about an Edward Hopper painting and how recognizable his style might be. Mondrian. Mark Rothko. Monet! Paul Desmond’s jazz saxophone solos (for me).

        I’ve always believed that one’s artistic style comes from doing lots and lots of creating in your chosen medium, whether that be visual or literary. I really like that you constantly engage in your creating, and it is an inspiration. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved reading it, Theresa. Evocative piece. And you have read Saramago, nice! I am yet to get hold of his books. I am a huge fan of Fernando Pessoa and I have read up about the Lisbon writers at large because they are such a melancholic lot. Their melancholia flows through their fingertips most wonderfully I think. xx


    1. Oh, DDG, you are so right about the Lisbon writers, I can see that too. I have a harder time muddling through Saramago after Skylight, but I really enjoy that early work. Oh! I think I need to take a look at his poetry sometime. Thank you for your visit, as always! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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