Salamander: A Forest of Books

The book tells its own story.

Examine it closely and you will see the ragged edges of the type, its cracks and bumps and gaps, the letters that lie crookedly or ride higher or lower than the others, the ink’s variations in depth, consistency, and hue, the motes of dust and droplets of sweat sealed within the warp and woof of the paper, the tiny insect bodies caught as the platen came down, and now immortalized as unnecessary commas and full stops.

In these imperfections lies a human tale of typecutters, squinting compositors, proofreaders and black-faced printer’s devils, labouring against time and heartache and disorder, against life, to create that thing not found in nature, yet still subject to its changes.

The pages stain, fox, dry out. Paper flakes like rusty metal. Threads work loose, headbands and tailbands fray. Front and back boards sag from spines, flyleaves and buckram corner-pieces peel away. Dust mites, cockroaches, and termites dine on paper and binding paste. Rates and mice make snug nests in the middle of thick chapters. And unseen, through the chemical action of time, the words themselves are drained of their living sap. In every library, readers sit in placid quite while all around them a forest decays.

—Thomas Wharton, Salamander