Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A library in the palm of your hand. An artwork in the pages of your library.

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The digital tsunami is here. In case you hadn’t noticed. When a new Apple gadget is launched it is routinely met with the kind of all-night all-weather lineups we might otherwise associate with a new Harry Potter or Hunger Games release. What does it do? We want to know. How is it lighter, better, faster, smaller? How can it improve my experience of doing all the things I never knew I wanted to do until Steve Jobs invented them a year ago but now can’t possibly live without? And with each new piece of hand-held wizardry come tweaks, changes and improvements to the digital reading experience. Santa brought a heck of a lot of people an eReader last Christmas. The book is dying. Or is it…?

For the most part, technological advances come along to save us (hurrah!) from our primitive ways of doing things. Anyone out there wishing their automatic washing machine could replicate the chapped hands of laundry day in dolly-tub times…? Didn’t think so. But while improvements in digital reading technology trumpet easier access, cheaper books, quick downloads, easy portability, the on-device experience itself always strives to become a closer simulation of the page-turning, cover-art-wielding, book-marking “real thing.” So post-modern are we.

This says a couple of things, but for the purpose of this column I’m going to pick just one of them. Whether you’re a techie or luddite traditionalist, there is still a difference between the reading you view as disposable and the reading you want to keep. New York Times = disposable. First edition, signed John Steinbeck novel = keep. You get the idea. And things we want to keep, we also want to look at. On a shelf, out on display, not chucked in a drawer with our assortment of dead cell phones, first-generation BlackBerrys and abandoned cables for we know not what.

As consumers we now have a choice. If we want to read something, we can pay to download it, or even download it on loan from the library (ultra disposability). Alternatively, we can buy it, carry it around, take it home and put it on display (a bookshelf, however messy, is still a display unit). It’s a dichotomy that encourages a conversation around the book not just as holder of words, but as object. Or, to take it a single step further, the book as objet d’art.

In deepest Parkdale (literally — it lives in the basement of Capital Espresso), a new project is taking shape while taking exactly this next step. More art installation than publisher, The Book Bakery has just announced its first three buns to come out of the oven, each a book with a heavy leaning towards the visual. The books will be produced entirely in house and sold predominantly online.

The brains behind the Bakery are Derek McCormack (baker in chief), Alana Wilcox and Michael Maranda. They’re bibliophiles with careers in art and traditional publishing — only this new project isn’t traditional publishing. “Bookstores are becoming galleries,” says McCormack, referring not to the displaying of art for sale (though that happens too) but to the way in which, especially with indies, it’s the collection of good-looking, cleverly displayed books which becomes the draw. From there it’s a logical step to start viewing the books as artworks in and of themselves: well-made things produced in limited editions.

Based on the Production Studio in Portland, Oregon, which already has offshoots in Vancouver, California and Chicago, The Book Bakery’s focus is on visual projects that will work well in small print runs (though McCormack doesn’t rule out the possibility of producing unlimited runs of certain titles if the circumstances seem right). The idea of a bakery is the perfect complement to its vision. Everything produced here will take careful measurements and time. The machines are manually operated. If these books were cakes they’d be the hand-beaten pre-Magimix variety: a drop of elbow grease and perspiration in every one.

Despite it being based underground and not open to the public, sociability is key to the Bakery’s mix. Like the original Production Studio, which is housed in the lobby of Portland’s ACE Hotel, The Book Bakery anticipates its publications being a communal creative experience. Authors are encouraged to help print and bind their own books and to barter their skills (a book-cover design in exchange for use of the specialist equipment and the space). The money pot is modest (authors get an honorarium plus royalties for their work, and retain copyright) but McCormack’s vision is more inclusive than a simple exchange of money for ideas: “the amount of work you put into it has to be commensurate with the amount of fun you get out of it,” he says. When you buy your limited edition Book Bakery production there’s a high chance that drop of elbow grease that went into the mix was the author’s own, that he or she not only wrote the words but physically made the object too. Good luck claiming the same about your limited-edition Damian Hirst.

When I visited, The Bakery was still a work-in-progress but almost ready to go. The shiny new printing machines sit on the stainless steel tables you’d expect to find in a commercial kitchen, kitsch cake decorations dance atop old hardcovers, a handful of dummy books signal what is yet to come. The launch publications are now mere weeks away. Why should you line up all night to see how The Book Bakery can make your library smaller, better, faster? You shouldn’t. But if you want to score a copy of one of their limited edition author-produced books you’d better get in line nonetheless.

The staff at the Bakery are hard-working souls. Find out about the many hats they wear while doing good literary arty things: Derek, Alana, Michael.

The Bakery’s first three limited-edition books will be produced in May 2011. They are: Pasha Malla’s Why We Fight, a visual exercise in translation; Andrew Kaufman’s Selected Business Correspondence, a collection of writings on vintage letterhead; Tabatha Southey’s It Must be as Tall as a Lighthouse, illustrated by Will Alsop.

You’ll be able to buy them online at

Becky Toyne is a publishing consultant specializing in manuscript development and book promotion. She has worked as an in-house editor at Random House UK and Random House of Canada, and as Communications Coordinator for the International Festival of Authors. She has reviewed books for the Globe and Mail and the CBC, is a member of the communications committee for the Writers' Trust of Canada, and writes a monthly column about Toronto's literary scene for Open Book: Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter: @MsRebeccs

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