Thinking about Enid Mark after reading Seth Godin

BoingBoing’s May interview with Seth Godin is worth the time, especially if you’re thinking about books, ideas, people, the internet, the future…

Once you’re through it, if you’re like me, you might be chewing on a few ideas in particular.  Not new shiny ideas, but gristle ideas. Like, say, the value of valuing books.

It’s an idea that my friend Eleanor drove home several years ago when she encouraged me to attend a retrospective of Enid Mark’s work at Swarthmore College.

Beyond The Map, copyright ELMPress

Godin, in his interview, says Unleashing the Idea Virus (2001) is one of “the most popular e‑books ever because it launched at the right time, it was easy to spread, it was easy to share, it was worth talking about.” At the time, he demonstrated the concept of printed books becoming souvenirs by releasing the text of that book for free, and offering the printed edition (which sold very, very well) for $40.

Mark, who founded ELM press in 1986 in order to print the kind of limited edition books that sell for many thousands of dollars, had an entirely different perspective on printing and publishing. Her books were made to inspire, and be desired, but they were neither ‘launched’ nor released en masse. Her descriptions of each volume can be found on the ELMPress website still.

It’s important that Mark’s descriptions focus on both the content and the mechanics with the same love and craft. Ars Botanica’s description, for instance: “An outstanding group of poets, including voices not yet widely known, as was well as a Pulitzer Prize winner, and MacArthur, Guggenheim and Pew Foundation Fellows, were invited by artist/editor Enid Mark to participate.[…] The type, 14 point Monotype Dante, was cast by Michael and Winifred Bixler, Skaneateles, New York…”

It’s as important that Godin’s interview caught my eye via my Google Reader feed, as I flew through my morning task list.

Launching versus printing, then.

Mass distribution versus the coveted and the treasured.

The speed of ideas versus – what…? I’m not sure I know yet.   Do you know?

Enid Mark’s legacy is preserved by the work of her son, Gene, and those who own her books, or the memory of seeing her speak about her books.

Seth Godin’s impact is all around us, ready to evolve at a moment’s notice.

Can we have both? I think so. As long as we stop to remember and treasure and value craft, even as we devour, and perhaps produce, new thoughts at pixel speed.


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