The Zen of Bookbinding

Updated: Sep 3


Who hasn't dreamed of having their journal or collection of thoughts bound forever in an intricate leather casing, adorned with an elegant, golden inlay? This 1981 documentary depicts the absolute masters of the craft—and while some might think that bookbinding is a dying artform (as with most artistries that reside within the physical realm) there is a surprising resurgence. One can easily find beginner’s bookbinding instrument sets online for under $20.00 and there are numerous videos on DIY bookbinding; with styles ranging from easy and rugged to complex and elaborate. A now unfamiliar but pleasant attribute about bookbinding, demonstrated in the documentary, is the silent atmosphere of the workplace—a characteristic that most of us envy. And while I am sure that the workers documented in the film had daily interactions about television programs or the news/media, the narrator points out the massive amount of concentration needed to bind a book, which in turn would make idle chitchat nearly impossible. What I have found throughout my various hobbies (typewriter repair, whittling, sculpting) is that absolute attentiveness to a physical task can provide peace—it is a form of meditation. I am not a person who is able to just sit with my legs crossed and clear my mind of thought—I am just not wired that way. Traditional meditation is not an option for me, and not for lack of trying. But tasks that require my complete concentration help slow down the ever-changing world and give my mind a rest. When I worked as a laborer, I found that I was often physically tired, but less mentally strained. This mental reserve allowed me to pursue my artistic endeavors, even after eight solid hours of fencepost pounding and straw bail lifting. Mental exhaustion is a side effect of administrative problem solving. You would be hard pressed to find office workers who aren’t constantly tired, and why shouldn’t they be? Problem solving is grueling, especially for the people who are the designated problem solvers.

In short, no matter our occupation, we all deserve a small slice of mental peace. We are so often now engaged in work without even realizing it; the afterhours' emails, weekend follow-ups, and correspondence about tasks that haven’t been started, and the dread that accompanies those conversations about tasks that we must complete. These concerns have physical and mental effects on our bodies. My advice to those stuck inside of this painful cycle is to slow down. Find a task that utilizes your complete focus, let your hands guide you into the physical reality of the moment, and after obtaining your true self through these tasks, take back that peace of mind that is so easily donated to your employer and reclaim your existence and space in this physical reality.

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