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The reading life: Susan Salter Reynolds on gifts of the written word

January 29, 2011 |  7:00 am

Truetruetrue No one ever gave me books. It used to bother me. But I also understood. Who would give a critic a book, entirely for pleasure? This has changed. There is now a young man who gives me books. Not just any books, but amazing, beautiful objects -- rare objects, printed in Brooklyn basements, in studios in Berlin, in Zurich and Amsterdam. He has sources, he knows of bookstores and websites, workshops and ways of thinking about books that I never dreamed of, locked in my own tidy model of the process of publishing.

The first book MacGregor gave me was hand-sewn, with a lime green linen cover, beautiful heavy paper and no copyright page. Inside: 22 stories by J.D. Salinger, many of them never before published. A Brooklyn publishing house called True True True  made a limited number of copies, sans marketing machine, and I intend to have it forever. There is something simple and thrilling about it, as though the stories had escaped a maximum-security prison to find a haven and safe passage in my underground railway of a library.

This Christmas, MacGregor gave me a small book with a rag paper cover -- clean, strong type with small purple accents (reminiscent of the cream-colored Gallimard editions in France, but lighter, cleaner and less expensive). The book is called “Of Walking in Ice: Munich -- Paris 23 November -- 14 December 1974” by Werner Herzog, translated from the German by Marje Herzog and Alan Greenberg, published by Free Association Press. In November 1974, a friend from Paris called Herzog in Munich to tell him that his friend and colleague, filmmaker Lotte Eisner, was dying. Herzog walked from Munich to Paris to see her, "believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot."

Each edition represents both the intended vision of its author as well as "a facet of our own belief system," we are told in a little note to the reader that is inserted in the front of the book, a reminder that this publisher honors the words the writer chose and the spirit of the project. They would also like the book to be read as well as valued, and so publish books in an affordable way.

This is a good way to feel about the printed word in these times when it seems to be under siege: Perhaps if we come on foot it will stay alive.

-- Susan Salter Reynolds