Selling Ghosts

This is a guest post by Caleb J Ross (also known as Caleb Ross, to people who hate Js) as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. He will be guest-posting beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin and novella, As a Machine and Parts, in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, please contact him. To be a groupie and follow this tour,subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: @calebjross.com. Friend him on Facebook: Facebook.com/rosscaleb

Folded Word gets the wonder of handmade books. But do the rest of us? Why spend so much time creating something that, content-wise, is the same as something factory-produced? Why buy the original painting when you can buy a print in the museum gift shop, so to speak? Because factory-made and museum-gift-shop weren’t touched by human hands. Why is that important? Ghosts. Try to stay with me.

There is an inherent bond between the author, publisher, and reader when a product carries with it the spectral association of actual human contact. I choose the word spectral carefully, because like a ghost, the implied history of human strife is what makes a reader so interested in a crafted book. Why are ghost stories so popular? It’s the connection beyond the physical. This is the same way that books in general work, but even more-so, handmade books. Written words are the representation of a human removed from the reader’s immediate physical perception. That connection is strengthened when the product maintains not just the intellectual residue (a traditionally printed book), but the physical residue (a handmade book), of the creator.

Even something as simple as a signature can carry spectral weight. I would guess that most readers can attest to the arresting sense of awe that comes with opening a book to a signature on the title page. This signature forces the thought of the author to be maintained in the reader’s head beyond the front cover. One philosophy of fiction writing, which I reference often, says that every story is experienced with at least three inherent personas: the reader, the narrator/characters, and the audience. A handmade book or a signature essentially strengthens this three-way bond and makes for a stronger experience.

But if a handmade book exists in a forest without anyone knowing how it was made, then does it matter if it is handmade? Perhaps not, in some cases. But when you can smell the sweat, see the brushstrokes, and can almost feel the fingerprints, then yes, it definitely matters. In the cases of Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas and Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg, when you can feel the torn pages and see the fake blood, you know something special halos the book.

Scorch Atlas (destroyed) by Blake Butler from featherproof books on Vimeo.

Charactered Pieces, lungs for readers by Caleb J. Ross

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