Unruly Islands will blow your mind, so buy it

If you don’t really like poetry because it usually sucks and is embarrassing, buy my latest book of poems, Unruly Islands. Buy some extra copies for your friends and one for your giant robot. It goes well in hackerspaces! Poems about the moon landing, modem noises, the dotcom crash, seasteading, surly teenage embezzlers, San Francisco alternate future geographies, and the history of utopianism from the Whole Earth Catalog through Riot Grrrl to Burning Man.

Also fits perfectly into your #Occupy library tent! Or — donate one to your local library for mega subversive pleasure!

Buy Unruly Islands from Aqueduct Press directly if you like supporting small, incredibly intellectual feminist science fiction publishers. Or buy Unruly Islands Amazon.com. it’s $12.00 and 96 pages of a weird trip through my brain.

The book has a gorgeous cover by an artist and hacker I met at Noisebridge, Meredith Scheff aka ladycartoonist.

Book cover for Unruly Islands

Here’s the book description and fabulous blurbs.

Unruly Islands collects 36 poems suffused with science fiction, revolution, and digital life on the edge.

Annalee Newitz, editor of i09, says of the collection: ”Liz Henry’s poetry is always moving, funny, and weird, regardless of whether she’s flying us on a rocketship through a science-fictional social revolution or telling us a wry story about being an adolescent embezzler. This collection is like a monster cyborg mashup of Walt Whitman, Joanna Russ, and the internet. Which is to say: Fuck yeah!”

Daphne Gottlieb, author of 15 Ways to Stay Alive, Why Things Burn, and Final Girl, writes: ”With all the awe and shiny of Barbarella, the breathless curiosity of Robert Hayden’s American Journal, and the dismal, too-real fluorescent sheen of the corner store, Liz Henry takes the world (and the otherword) and makes it ours in all of its signal and noise, its glorious classwar and cussmouth. She takes the unknowable along with the familiar and shows us how, incontrovertibly, the future is here, and the future is us.”

And Maureen Owen, author of Imaginary Income and Zombie Notes, observes, ”Liz Henry’s protean, phantasmagorical images slingshot us out and boomerang us back simultaneously over multiple plains in all directions. Immediate, futuristic, subliminal. An intimate, wild ride through a surrealistic mind field.”

Photo of Liz Henry

I’ll be reading this month in San Francisco at Writers With Drinks on May 12, Red Hill Books in Bernal Heights May 18, and at the feminist science fiction convention in Madiscon, Wisconsin, WisCon later in May.

Neophile links: Marx, Signifying, Leibowitz, Lezginkas

I read very quickly and am a hardcore neophile, traits that go well together. It makes me super happy to have tons of new information flying into my brain. Take these links, please, to help me close the tabs in my browser!

the internet is more interesting than a research paper cartoon by asher sarlin

  • Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century by Karl Marx. This goes well with the State Department cables of Wikileaks’ #cablegate. Thanks to Oblomovka for the link. This makes good bedtime reading if you download it onto ibooks or a Kindle.

    In perusing these documents, there is something that startles us even more than their contents—viz., their form. All these letters are “confidential,” “private,” “secret,” “most secret”; but in spite of secrecy, privacy, and confidence, the English statesmen converse among each other about Russia and her rulers in a tone of awful reserve, abject servility, and cynical submission, which would strike us even in the public despatches of Russian statesmen.

  • Adina Levin’s thoughtful review of Henry Louis Gates’ The Signifying Monkey. Here is the core of one of her points:

    Gates makes powerful cases that these writers are working in tradition, building and extending and critiquing each others’ work. But it is not at all clear to me that Signifying in this theoretical sense represents a special sort of African-American literary influence distinct from other sorts of literary influence. Writers always build on the work of earlier writers. Later parts of the bible modify earlier parts, and the Hebrew bible reworks earlier Semitic traditions. Dante rewrites and modifies Virgil. Cervantes parodies chivalric romances in Don Quixote. It’s how writing works, and how art works, how culture works. African-American writers respond to other African-American writers, and other predecessors (Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is obviously also in the broader tradition of modern/postmodern literature). Is Reed’s response to Black writers Signifying, and to other writers not? Or is the way that African-American writers respond to predecessors Signifying, as distinct to the way other writers respond?

    It’s been a long time since I read The Signifying Monkey ! But I have a bit of a knee jerk response that signifying is one of many lenses to use for looking at intertextuality and shares some characteristics just as people refer to some kind of intertextuality as Talmudic in character. I also had some thoughts of feminist discussions of interrupted geneologies of literary and intellectual influence but couldn’t think who to cite. Direct influence can be hard to prove and it is a bit pointless to try in many cases. But we can say that a writer was writing within a likely context – or can skip that and say that reading them within a particular context we choose has meaning.

  • Verité Parlant from Whose Shoes Are These Anyway? writes about Fran Leibowitz. I also liked her casual but interesting musings on North Korea and South Korea.
  • Got to say the thing I enjoyed the most about the State Department cables was the description of a wedding in Dagestan, well written and totally fascinating. Jet skis! Vodka! Giant water tower reception room with a glass floor that’s the top of a huge fish tank, all very jamesbondian! I went to YouTube to look up videos of what a lezginka dance looks like, Dagestan style and got lost in there for most of Sunday afternoon.
  • Historical Hipster San Francisco Poetry

    As I was reading up on the controversy about Blue Bottle Coffee putting a generator-drive truck with espresso machines into Dolores Park, I came across this mock documentary by “Kenita Burns” about the battle between Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle coffee hipsters in San Francisco:

    The quote at the end about Joan Baez and the song for the closing credits were the funniest parts to me, because while I love listening to boomer hippies tell stories about the olden days and I admire their many accomplishments, they’re really fun to parody.

    I came into reading about Dolores Park and the coffee controversy from Chicken John’s giant rambling rants on his mailing list. A Blue Bottle employee wrote to him and he went into a full blast of rhetoric on the subject. You know who else promised us solar power? GEORGE BUSH. And probably Hitler. I liked Annalee’s suggestion that Blue Bottle power its espresso machines by bicycle. Earnest park-goers would pedal away helpfully and the company could also hire bikers to generate the power necessary for expensive coffee. This would turn the whole concern from a PR debacle into a total PR win and Blue Bottle would end up beloved of all (except for people who notice, like Chicken John, that it’s still an incredibly bad idea to sell off public park space to private businesses.)

    Annalee and Claire Light and Charlie Jane and Annalee’s friend Lynn sat there for hours in Cafe Petra working quietly, reading, writing, and coding. I was messing around with some problems in Drupal for work, while I think everyone else was writing their novels or blogging for their day jobs. Later that night I read one of Charlie’s stories which blew me away completely. Timmi wrote me really nice email about my long essay about the connections between women writers and thinkers, which made me swoon with happiness.

    Yesterday I also spent some glorious hours reading about Drop City in Colorado, Zome which started as a dome construction thing and has morphed into alternate power systems and Zometool toy construction kits; the Hog Farm and Black Oak Ranch, the Whole Earth Catalog folks, and other utopian movements in Northern California, inspired by my visit to the geodesic domes of Oz Farm (former utopian commune home of SF State computer science professor Lawrence Kroll). Tim Miller seems to have written some interesting books on utopian communities. I ordered some of his books, the TC Boyle Drop City book, and Peter Rabbit’s book which sounds like a very DIY zine style “history”. It is difficult to find much mention of the women of these communes and they often go by pseudonyms and then change their names a couple of times anyway, as with much of my research into women doing — well, pretty much anything. I will be making a list though once I have some books to go on. The web sources suck for figuring out who the women were in these movements and what they might have been thinking. Certainly they were thinking some bitter things about dishwashing.

    dishwashing in the domes

    As I read and researched I thought over some of the poems I have cooking. I’m still on a long-poem kick after 10 years of thinking about long poems and what can be done in them with ideas. I still like short poems, but am not the sort of poet who sits down to look at a lake and writes a poem about a lake. How dreary!!! How middle class! I despise most poets’ aesthetics. They can take their gardens, their analysis of their relationships with their dead parents, their constipated little emotions they applaud as they’re finally pooped out, and their glurgy thoughts about bombs, and shove them.

    Enough with the cranky poet. Here’s what I’m thinking about.

    Anyway, it was pleasant to swim around in the shape of the unwritten poem, with words and phrases popping into my head and going onto the page. The big idea and combination or juxtaposition of ideas and images and things starts to take form. Oddly – this is almost a non-verbal process. The shape or form or echo or feel of the poem, as a poem, forms before there are words to go into the poem (or while there are only a few words or a phrase as the keystone or touchstone.) Poems begin to separate out from each other as it becomes clear what ideas go with which other ideas and how they all interrelate. So before I have much of anything, I know that I’m writing a long big poem about daylighting a San Francisco creek, with a hefty dose of wistful critique of eco-liberalism; or about the Whole Earth Catalog’s history, utopia, the Internet, broken skeletons of dreams and the homes they morph into, Alia and the God Emperor of Dune, and the torturer Autarch Severian and the way we treat (and eat) information and cultural memory.

    The stuff I’m writing now and have been writing for the past couple of years is part of a slowly evolving book called “Unruly Islands” and while I know mostly no one else cares what a book of poetry is “about” or how its elements are related, I care deeply about the meta-narrative of a poetry book as a thing in itself.

    The alchemical process of distilling language out of this inchoate stuff puts me into an ecstatic trance. I feel a little bit insane. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to switch gears back into real life, real language, and linear thinking. That switching gears is part of what I feel I’ve learned over the years to let me have a fairly comfortable life in society and still stay a poet. Of course the sleeping pills also help.

    inside the domes

    The Collected Works of Marita Bonner

    I’m reading Frye Street & Environs: The Collected Works of Marita Bonner. Marita Bonner was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance who graduated from Radcliffe in 1922, moved to Chicago, and wrote a series of stories about a street of immigrants and African-Americans and their social dynamics. The short stories are pretty great, though very depressing, as the characters mostly come to bad ends; jail, the electric chair, social diseases, suicide, murder, soul-crushing poverty, rape, prostitution, adultery, boyfriends and husbands killing cheatin’ women, heart attacks from overwork, and a lot of babies who don’t get very good babysitters & grow up on paregoric syrup. They’ll definitely stick in my mind.

    Here’s a list of the stories and plays:

    On Being Young–a Woman–and Colored.–The Young Blood Hungers.–The Pot Maker: A Play to Be Read.–The Purple Flower.–Exit, an Illusion: A One-Act Play.–The Hands: A Story.–The Prison-Bound.–Nothing New.–One Boy’s Story.–Drab Rambles.–A Possible Triad on Black Notes.–Tin Can.–A Sealed Pod.–Black Fronts.–Hate is Nothing.–The Makin’s.–The Whipping.–Hongry Fire.–Patch Quilt.–One True Love.–On the Altar.–High-Stepper.–Stones for Bread.–Reap It As You Sow It.–Light in Dark Places.

    I didn’t so much love the plays; not my thing. But it was interesting to read her stage and casting instructions which depend so heavily on casting someone of exactly the right shade of dark or light or bronze to express their character. A lot of the characters would fall into the category of “tragic mulatto”. Basically if you’re light with blond hair and violet eyes in a Bonner story, you’re out of luck and probably have several Social Diseases along with your silk dresses and bath salts (for the women) or handsome chiseled features and natty suits (for the men). Bonner tells stories about black people criticizing and fighting with other black people over social class and education, keeping her harshest criticisms though for people who are trying to be up and coming but who mistake expensive stuff for the way to do it. Other characters like Lee in “Hate is Nothing” have a sense of aesthetics balanced with their education and morals. Lee, like so many of Bonner’s characters, wants some excitement and escape. She goes driving off into the night to the nightlife of Tootsville, but instead of meeting a bad end she gives a ride to a lady in distress, helps bail her daughter out of jail, and comes home to hash out some of her issues with her husband and mom-in-law. Lee likes “nice things” but they’re presented by Bonner as being refined and artistic — silk cushion covers and a fine china tea set from Lee’s grandmother. I was relieved that Lee got a happy (if melancholy) ending.

    “Black Fronts” tells two stories of social class from three different points of view. in Front A an extended family struggles through the depression by going on relief, having three families under one roof plus taking in a boarder, while one of the sons tries to keep up his status of being a lawyer along with his partying wife, Rinky.

    You know Rinky. The skin of civilization which covers the black worlds has been erupting her type for years…. no back – no middle – all front… Rinky was one of those still so bedazzled with their own fresh varnish of diction and degrees that they cannot discriminate between those born to the manor and those born to the gutter.

    Bonner just cannot stand poor Rinky and her husband and their pretensions but she has some sympathy for their worries as they lie awake at night thinking over how they just spent their last $5 on a bohemian party for their friends with sandwiches and booze – how will they eat, or live, and what happens when their creditors demand to be paid up in full? Rinky frets awake about how to send a dollar home to her mother down south (though even as she worries it’s more about her social position in dispensing largess than about responsibility or concern.)

    Front B has a top and a bottom story. The top is in the voice of a maid, Mrs. Jones, ironing some napkins and needling her employer for not being as generous or having as nice stuff as another lady she works for. As she irons she is abusive to the children she’s there to babysit and plots out how to steal some napkins and sugar and vanilla (for the church and baking for the preacher!) while seething internally with resentment at her employer for not being a white lady, for not taking care of her own kids and doing her own dirty work. Mrs. Jones thinks of it as shameful to work for another black woman. The bottom of Front B is the middle class black woman who employs Mrs. Jones on the phone with a friend and in her internal monologue, frustrated and trying to carve out a little time for herself in the day (and failing). She especially hates how Mrs. Jones criticizes her for not having enough nice things, then steals the nice things she *does* have. Front B was one of the best stories in this book, with the internal and external monologues of each character perfectly set and perfectly mixed.

    The hard workers and penny pinchers don’t fare any better than the social climbers, either because they die from overwork, their babies die, they get raped by their white employers, or because while trying to save their kids from poverty, they interfere with the course of true love or hold their children back from ambition. Or if that doesn’t happen, their children grow up to be slutty teenagers who frequent pool-halls and then there is inevitably a knifing and someone fries in the electric chair.

    I also admired “Drab Rambles” which has a short preamble on the basic damage to people of color in the U.S. done by racism. “I am hurt. There is blood on me. You do not care. You do not know me. You do not know me. You do not care. There is blood on me. Sometimes it gets on you. You do not care I am hurt. Sometimes it gets on your hands — on your soul even. You do not care. You do not know me. ” “A check-mated Hell, seething in a brown body.” The story is told in two unrelated portraits. The first is of a 50 year old coal shoveller, Peter Jackson, at a clinic because of his bad heart. The second is of Madie who is trying desperately to keep a job while she has a little baby (also named Madie) to look after. Problem is anyone who will employ her for more than 5 minutes wants to rape her.

    Madie second was black brown. The baby was yellow. Was she now going to go job hunting or have a sister or brother to keep with Madie second?
    Cold perspiration sent her shivering in the alley.
    And Madie cursed aloud.

    I can’t say I exactly liked “One Boy’s Story” but like the others it will stick in my mind. The little boy Donald lives with his mom who takes in sewing from the white women of the town. The local doctor, white, has an affair with his mom, which everyone but the boy knows about. At some point she tries to end it and another man shows up, who looks to be her previous boyfriend or sweetheart, but when he figures out the doctor is Donald’s father he freaks out and leaves. The doctor comes tomcatting around again while the little boy hears his mom freaking out. He hits the doctor in the head with a stone and then while hugging his mom and crying afterwards, the pin of her brooch goes into his tongue AND HE GETS GANGRENE AND HAS TO HAVE HIS TONGUE AMPUTATED and everyone is a little bit glad that he can now never tell what he did and how he killed his dad. The end? Man that was gross and depressing.

    I’m curious now to read more about Bonner’s life and to look at the work of her and Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “S Street Circle” of writers. I felt a bit sad that she stopped writing and publishing in 1941. I respect how she didn’t just write about the problems she herself faced as a fairly middle class woman with an Ivy League education. She dove into all sorts of intersectional problems of race and gender and social class. Her stories are eloquent and masterful in language & character expression, definitely worth a read.

    I got this book out of a free box outside a little branch library in West Oakland along with a lot of other cool classics of late 19th and early 20th century African American literature and felt a bit sad too that the library didn’t have room to keep these works.

    HTML Markup for Amazon Kindle and ebooks

    I have two awesome interns for Tollbooth Press right now, with the agreement that we’ll blog about what we work on or learn. Both are friends of the family; former volunteers at the local history museum bookstore; and fierce readers, thinkers, and writers, just starting high school. I gave them both a long list of ideas for projects, research, and work that might be interesting. Ellie was most interested in electronic book publishing, while Julia, who is pretty handy with spreadsheets and data analysis, thought Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools sounded good. I’m hoping to get a little bit of (paid) help from them too, in visits to Stanford’s Green Library, xeroxing and writing up bibliographical information for some of my translation research.

    Today Ellie and I looked at how to set up books for sale on Amazon for the Kindle or other electronic formats. I thought that running through a very simple example would open up some possibilities and new ideas. Then we can work on marking up one of Tollbooth Press’s printed books. Also, I expect that Ellie may take the idea and run with it, since she’s a promising fiction writer, has friends who write, and might enjoy editing.

    We played the accordion a little bit first off. I had to laugh. At first try, Ellie was already better than I am at playing the accordion, reading my sheet music and picking out the Lord of the Rings theme by ear. Then we each made sample html files, me on a Mac in TextEdit and Ellie on her PC in Notepad, to demonstrate basic HTML markup and how to change a file and reload it in a browser.

    We started out with just a few lines in this file, then expanded it to have multiple pagebreaks and paragraphs, saving it as plain text with the .html file extension and reloading it in a browser.

    Then we both made accounts on Amazon Desktop Publishing. It has a very clear path to follow in order to create a new book. We basically filled out a form with the book title, language, and some other information, then uploaded our files. After the files are uploaded, but before they’re saved, a new button shows up on DTP to preview your book on a simulated Kindle in the browser. Trying this button gives a very good idea of how your book will end up. We tweaked our html files and uploaded them a couple of times. We then used a longer text of Ellie’s, saving it as HTML from Microsoft Word, and re-opening the resulting file in Notepad to see what the markup looked like. It was cleaner than I expected, separating out the styles into pretty decent CSS and not putting terribly too much cruft into the body markup. But I think it was important to start from plain text and mark up a simple file from scratch.

    As we finished the setup process we ran into a problem – Amazon requires an address and taxpayer ID, because they also require you to set a price and take royalties as you upload your book. With permission from Ellie’s dad we did this setup. Within a couple of days, her sample writing should be available and I’ll certainly buy, download, and test it.

    I showed off Thoughtcrime, Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson’s recent anthology, and its appendix “How To Do This and Why”, which explains how to make an anthology.

    I had to pull her out of Facebook chat a few times, but that’s okay since I was on the #geekfeminism IRC channel in another window myself. Plus, I was very amused to see her and her friends using Google Translate to chat with each other in various languages. This cleverly evades the casual Facebook observer’s understanding while not being uncrackable or really difficult to engage it. It raises the bar of attention and results in some cool side effects, like learning a bit of Swahili with your friends.

    Ellie then showed me the first bit of A Very Potter Musical, which looks brilliant and funny, and I showed her the somewhat more lowbrow Usher vs. Goat YouTube doubler mashup.

    She wrote up a short post to describe what we worked on, which I think is a good exercise. It will show that my interns learned interesting skills and do good work, and the internship isn’t just resume-padding. It seems only fair that I write something up too.

    It was a fun afternoon. I look forward to going further into HTML, CSS, book layout, editing, and the nitty gritty details of small press publishing. I like the idea of transmitting some of my zine/small press art book skills and background, but also the idea of giving smart ambitious people the keys to immediate wide distribution, publishing they can do for free, without scraping up money for xeroxing, printing, or binding — and without being doomed to carry boxes of unsold zines and books around with them for their entire lives. As I’m doomed, until I someday digitize all those back issues of Composite and Ratatosk and the Punk Paper Dolls.

    back of the zines-by-me shelf

    I had some more wise advice to give about the importance of managing your accounts across various services, your account names, remembering your passwords, and so on. That particular pompous lecture will have to wait till next time. That’ll surely come back to haunt me since both my interns are organizational geniuses compared to my slovenly sprawl.

    Links for reference: Dave Raggatt’s Introduction to HTML; Amazon DTP guide to HTML markup; Introduction to CSS; Accordion Apocalypse.

    Intern Log Stardate 10/3/2010

    Today, we explored very basic html, and publishing to Amazon for Kindle. I managed to upload an article I wrote a year ago on the history of buildings in earthquakes, on sale for $.99. Apparently, one cannot upload articles/stories/whatever to amazon without getting royalties. *darn…*

    I have plans to eventually upload an anthology, a book, etc under fuzzy dice books. And profit. Then rule the world.

    -Ellie, Intern #1, your future overlord.

    How to bind an inside-out book

    After looking at David Merritt’s little hand-bound recycled books I started trying various ways to make my own. Tollbooth Press books have ranged from xeroxed and stapled booklets to printed perfect-bound books to hand-sewn books with stiff textured Tibetan lokti tree paper covers and transparent inner leaves. This year I’ve made all Tollbooth’s books with recycled book covers in my experiments with cheap, no-fuss bookbinding.

    I will explain below at length how to recycle and re-bind a book. But here’s the short version: Rip the cover off an old book, turn it inside out, and staple the new book inside it. It’s very easy!

    You will need some hardback books that deserve a merciful end. Self-help books from 1982, old business textbooks, third-rate airport novels, and tattered, foxed library discard reference books are excellent candidates for recycling. I get mine from the ends of garage sales, from the free shelves in my marina’s laundry room, from books being thrown out at Noisebridge, and from the free box outside Red Hill Books in Bernal Heights. As I often liberate books into the world by putting them into cafes and other free shelves, the net effect is more and better books in the free book ecosystem. It freaks some people out to think of destroying a book. But if you go to the dump or recycling center, you’ll find dumpsters filling up every day. How much better to give an unwanted book new life!

    Anyway, to start binding a book, you must first cut up the old one.

    cutting up a book

    Here’s the much more detailed how-to.

    Take off the dust jacket if there is one, and open the book. Take a look at the hinge. You need to cut through the thick end paper which anchors the block of the book — its pages — to the boards, hinge, and spine, which form the book cover. The hinge will be hard to cut through, as it is probably backed with some of the net or mull that goes over the book’s spine, which you’ll see as a sort of cheesecloth fabric or little bits of threads. The trick here is to cut the block of paper out of the covers without cutting through the spine. If the book is tightly bound, it will help to widen and try to tear the endpaper’s connection to the boards.

    the inside of a book's spine

    Now you have the boards and spine and hinge as the sort of shell or husk, separate from the block of pages. Tear the end papers off the block and tear out or clip anything else interesting in the book. You might want to use them later for new endpapers or decoration.

    Turn the book cover inside out. Work on the spine to make it flexible, by creasing it in all its parts in its new direction. I like for the new book’s spine to be rounded and flexible, not pointy and cracked. The papery inside bits of the inside-out spine may tear and flake off. That’s okay. The entire aesthetic of the book can be messy.

    You will need to make your own block of paper now. For a blank book, this is super easy. Get some paper and trim it to a size to fit inside the inside-out book cover. The paper should fit fairly snugly up into the new inside-out spine. You may want the edges of the paper to be perfectly trim with the book, or to protrude outside it like lacy petticoats peeking out of a dress, but in the traditional way to bind a book you’d trim the pages to be shorter than the covers all around, so that they fit inside without showing. It’s up to you. Trim the paper, and then staple the left edge together in two or three places, with about a 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch margin. If your book is thick, you can use a heavy-duty stapler. A normal stapler binds about 20 – 25 sheets of paper. If you don’t have a heavy duty stapler, then staple around 20 pages together, then lay the next 20 pages on top and staple again in a slightly different place in the margin. Repeat as necessary and stagger the vertical placement of your stapler. Now you have a book block!

    If you have your own text to bind, you’ll need to lay it out nicely. The most important things in your layout are the margins. You need the text to fit on the page, and it’s especially nice to plan for a wide inside margin so that the text doesn’t unreadably run into the binding of the book. Since you will have a fairly random assortment of book cover sizes, it’s hard to make your layout precise. But there are two standard sizes I encounter. The bigger size is 9 1/4 x 6 1/4. The medium size is 8 1/2 x 5 3/4. The very large, very small covers and the ones wider than they are tall, it’s best to save for blank books or one-off projects. If you lay out your books for the big and medium standard sizes, with generous margins, that will work well. Trim the pages to the size you need, book by book, with scissors, exacto knife, or a paper cutter. Or take them to a copy shop and ask for them to trim a giant block of pages all at once. This is usually inexpensive.

    Tall, thin children’s books or coffee table art book covers make great drawing pad blank books for kids. You can make one in a minute or two before you go on a trip or to anywhere you might need to entertain some children and keep them quiet. I’ve spent hours drawing and telling stories with various children in blank books.

    To make really nice feeling books, buy special paper. I love to go to Kelly Paper and browse around. Check your local paper store and its shelves of discontinued paper if you’re looking for a discount – you can get a $30 ream of paper for $5 if you’re lucky. Bond is smooth and the most basic bond paper is what you usually put into a printer or copier. Laid paper has some texture to it with ribbed lines. Wove is smooth, but has more of a square weave pattern than bond. Vellum is usually smooth too but has a bit of translucency. Linen basically looks how it sounds – like fine cloth you might use for sheets, with some tooth (finger-detectable rough texture) to it. I like linen or laid in a hand-bound book, and think that vellum makes great semi-transparent title pages or fly leaves.

    You now have a block and a cover (inside-out). Hold the block tightly inside the cover and staple the hinge with the book facing up. A line of three staples down the book’s spine is probably enough. Flip the book over. Did the staples go all the way through? If so make sure the points of the staples are not protruding too sharply – fold them over with a screwdriver or a butter knife. If the staples didn’t make it all the way through the block and back cover, then put in another three staples from the back side.

    Note that the spine has a hinge and, before the stiff boards start, an indentation called the gutter. You can staple close to the boards, right in the gutter, but I like to staple just a bit behind the gutter so the book cover lies nice and flat.

    You can also wedge the book block tightly or more loosely into the spine before stapling. A tight fit works well for thin books but for thicker books, leave some room for the spine to curve and lie flat when the book is open. Here you can see a detail of the stapled inside-out spine of the new book. The torn edges of the original endpaper and bits of mull stick out in a pleasing feathery way. The

    detail of edge of inside-out book

    You may want some front matter on the inside cover of the book rather than bound into the pages. Right now I’m gluing printed paper into the front inside cover with the name of the press, an ISBN, and the date of publication. I think that standard stickers would work well for this, better than glue, with a blank spot for the month and year to be stamped or written in.

    inside front cover of a book

    For some books, I glue fancy endpapers from the book cover’s inside to the first (blank) page of the text block. This can look really nice but is a bit laborious. It is important to use nice, archival-quality, acid-free glue if you’re going to do this, or the book will yellow and rot in a few years.

    For the front cover, you can print labels and glue them, handwrite, use stickers, or print with rubber stamps and ink. You can custom order rubber stamps with a title from most office supply stores, very cheaply. I’m copying David Merritt here, in part, by using alphabet block rubber stamps for the front cover. But the title of the poem here was too long to stamp out, so it’s a printed label.

    front cover of an inside-out book

    My alphabet rubber stamps were about $15 at an art supply store that had a scrapbooking section. They came in a neat metal box with a small ink pad. You can also get them at craft and sewing stores or order them online in various fonts. The metal box doesn’t absorb the extra ink from the stamps, so I’m going to look for a wooden box or a thin wooden shim to put under the stamps. While I don’t mind getting inky in the process of bookbinding, the metal box is out of control! The box is super handy, though. I keep an exacto knife in it for help in cutting up book covers. I’ve also thought it might be interesting to modify a small, thin briefcase or some cigar boxes to hold alphabet stamps neatly like a printer’s type drawer.

    Here are some examples of experiments with flyleaf paper in books with a single poem.

    Thin, stiff, translucent striped paper:

    Rumpled, hand-torn yellow legal paper:

    Flyleaf of rumpled yellow legal paper with a coffee mug stain:


    Finally, here is an afternoon’s book binding result. I can do a batch of about 10 or 15 books from start to finish in a couple of hours. I generally give them away to people but am not above taking a dollar or five from people who want to donate.


    Once I print out some texts and put them in folders, the whole “small press” is portable. The folders of papers, extra end papers and blank sheets, stapler(s), glue, scissors, exacto knife, rubber stamps, and ripped-off book covers, all fit neatly into a backpack. At home, I have a saddle-stitch stapler and a heavy-duty stapler for big projects. For the portable press-in-a-backpack, a tiny stapler works fine.

    Enjoy your bookbinding projects! I hope you create marvelous and satisfying books!

    Living in a boat

    A month ago I moved onto a boat, a 37 foot Chris Craft Catalina built in 1987. The engine is in scattered rusted pieces. There’s a faint bilgey, seaweedy smell and a gentle rocking motion. Pelicans, grebes, coots, ducks, geese, scaups, cormorants, and night herons hang around the harbor outside my window.


    Last night for the first time, during a minus tide (a perigean spring tide) the boat grounded on the muddy bottom. Then there was a moment where the boat began to sway again – it had lifted off and we were floating. I looked out at the christmas lights in the rigging next door and realized we were at our usual height relationship again, with a view of the canvas roof over their cockpit. While we were both grounded, their deeper keel hit bottom first, and their boat towered over us so that I was looking into their lower portholes from my cabin window.

    It’s all a bit like a trailer park in a very wet parking lot. Some people’s boats sail out into the bay or to far destinations. Others, like mine, stay put except for the promise and motion of the tide. People who have boats, and who live aboard their boats, seem to share a particular romanticism, dreaminess and the attachment of meaning to possibilities of a nomadic life, or a sense of needed refuge, shown in lists of the most popular boat names over the years.

    Tides are complicated. On this part of the coast we get mixed tides — with high water and low water twice a day, and one set of high and low points higher than the other. The tide moves north along the U.S. west coast because of the Coriolis effect. Here in the bay, down a marshy creek channel and in the middle of a slough, the tidal range is still over 8 feet. Floating docks and finger docks are loosely connected to piers by huge metal rings. Sometimes we on the boats, and the docks that bridge the water, are up at the level of the parking lot. At low tide, the ramp from the parking lot to the docks is quite steep.

    Dock steps with a handrail lead up to my boat. Between the main cabin and the other rooms, there are a few more steps. These are still hard for me to negotiate, especially stepping down. But through the stress of moving I’ve held up very well. Now that I’m settled in, the constant small variations of the steps between rooms, with resting possible in bed or in the living room and kitchen, are making my knees stronger.

    The head in the aft (captain’s) cabin works well. The forward head has been in pieces for over a week, waiting for an out of stock valve to be shipped to one of a small group of my neighbors who have been in and out of the boat to study the valves and hoses below deck and the disassembled hoses attached to the toilet itself. I’ve learned a little bit about marine heads in the meantime. Everyone here gets to know the marine shop and the RV supply places, and, I think, the workings of each other’s boats.

    The boat had two circuits of 30 amps each. Space heaters, the microwave, and the toaster oven use the most amps and can potentially flip some circuit breakers. There’s a 12 volt circuit too for the boat’s batteries, and the bilge pump runs on that. Though the water and electricity are hooked up to the city services, I’m suddenly more aware of them as finite resources, and am now much more moderate in my use of both. My neighbors can see the water I use to wash dishes, as it’s pumped out over the side. The toilets’ holding tank is pumped out twice a month into a boat with a giant holding tank, with all our sewage sloshing around visibly inside.

    A small subset of my books fills three half-size bookshelves. I brought a lot of books about exploration and the sea, fiction and non-fiction. So far the best one has been The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk By a Whale. Three survivors from the 1820 wreck of a whaling ship tell the story of the whale’s attack, a long journey in three open boats, starvation, thirst, fear, and cannibalism. My other favorite book just now, a present from Oblomovka, is The Queen of Whale Cay, about a woman named Joe Carstairs who drove ambulances in WWI, raced motorboats, had about a zillion lovers including Marlene Dietrich, and bought her own island in the Bahamas which she ruled feudal or colonial style until the 1960s. Every paragraph of the book was full of new outrageousness. I also brought some books of poems to translate, and some of my favorite poets like Ginsberg and Alta.

    By comparison to many other towns on the Peninsula, Redwood City has kept a little bit of its working class industry and feel, in part because it’s a working deep water port. Ships from China and South Korea bring construction materials, like gypsum and rock for cement. They leave filled with scrap metal. On one side, a complex of tall buildings is built around a rocky artificial stream, then some salt ponds shade towards more slough and a landfill to the south. On the north side of the port, there’s a yacht harbor surrounded by tech and genetics companies in a chain of long low buildings and their oceanic parking lots. Then, bits of slough and winding creek channels. At the point where Redwood Creek crosses 101, there’s a marina called Docktown, with some enormous “floating homes” built on pontoons, and boats ranging down to the “barely floating” category. There are lots of flowerpots and dogs and amazing, attractive clutter, and a completely non-snooty yacht club. I like it there. My boat is in Pete’s Harbor, a quiet marina just across the creek and around a point, facing Bair Island and Smith Slough. The liveaboards here all seem to know each other and it’s a good community. Two newer marinas in town, West Point and Bair Island, are stricter in their rules and are out to attract a richer set of residents. But my impression of Docktown and Pete’s Harbor is that people here are just regular — not wealthy yacht owners — and in fact it’s very affordable to live on the water here once you have the boat and a slip to rent. The politics of the existence of marinas seems as complicated as tides and less predictable. Here is an area in flux, whose ownership is a bit unclear or is municipally owned. Would it even be possible to own a tiny bit of the coastline in the bay, here? Could it be possible for a consortium or co-operative to buy up some land and own their own personal boat slips, rather than renting the slips? I wonder, too, if that would inevitably lead to people filling in the spaces between docks and new land pushing outward into the Bay, as much of San Francisco was built on docks and filled in to become land, owned and controlled rather than the liminal space that coastlines seem to be.

    As I read about the complexities of tides I learned about amphidromic points, places in the ocean where because of the Coriolis effect, the topography of the sea floor or the nearby landmasses, the tidal range is zero. The tides here keep me noticing things and alert to this small bit of the world. I’m paying attention to weather and watching the marine buoys nearest to the harbor.

    Anyway, the changes in my life have been overwhelming and absorbing, so much that I haven’t been blogging much or spending time online, other t
    han for work. I need to jump back in, though, and in a couple of weeks am leaving for New Zealand for linux.conf.au and DrupalSouth. Wellington is on Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. On the east coast, high tide comes at the same time as low tide on the west coast. So the current through the channel is fierce and for various reasons, nearly unpredictable. A bit like my interest in geology and gardening and compost made me notice dirt and rocks and want to learn about the geological history of every place I go — seeing a landscape as a potential narrative over the scale of geologic time and simultaneously from the point of view of a gardener — living aboard a boat (which happened somewhat by chance as I looked for a cheap place to live in my town on Craigslist) has given me a new overlay or template or lens to view the rest of the world. So there’s a new set of things to learn and notice, everywhere I go, which makes me feel incredibly lucky and happy. The rock and soil based lens of my view is about deep history and rootedness, and how to settle and blend into that landscape, making a sort of habitat or ecosystem where I make a home for birds and bugs, getting back some tomatoes and oregano and flowers. Here on the water in my glorified floating trailer, I find I’ve made the same sort of cozy domesticity inside the house, but outside, there’s no feeling of rootedness or connection. I’m detatched, ephemeral, temporarily in residence, trying not to make an impact with my biodegradable soap, an observer and traveller. What would it be like, living in a spaceship? It’s like what that anthropologist whose name I can’t recall wrote about the attractions of waiting rooms and hotel lobbies. But rather than waiting in an impersonal static lobby for a particular event, I’m a temporary resident along with the ducks and herons as enormous forces keep our world in flux.

    Too cool for school

    Moomin has been in “science and art” camp for weeks: Camp Galileo. They’re really organized and send home daily newsletters (mostly canned…) and at the end of the week, photos of all the kids and a certificate. I think the “science” they do is overhyped, so there is a lot of bridge-building from popsicle sticks, fun but with these things I always wish they would dig deeper and make things more “real”.

    Meanwhile there is a lot of loafing and comic books and reading going on over here, and we continue to make stuff out of the Howtoons book.

    Milo in a hat

    But we haven’t made a movie, or started a band, or learned programming, or done experiments with electricity, and and and…

    Though on the “experiments with electricity” front, I am giving Moomin a quarter every time he turns off a light in a room no one’s using.

    Reading: Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbottsen, which I pitched to him as “kids doing magical marine rescue.”

    We looked at the Daily Ocean blog, whose author goes for a 20-minute walk every day to pick up trash on the beach. She photographs it and writes beautiful, thoughtful posts. After 40 days of picking up trash, she had collected over 200 pounds of trash. Keep in mind that’s only 20 minutes a day!

    And we watched The Bots, two teenagers from LA with a punk rock band:

    Potlatch sf convention's Books of Honor

    Potlatch, a small, book-focused science fiction convention, wanders up and down the West Coast of the U.S. Every year that I’ve been to it, it has a Book of Honor instead of a Guest of Honor. There is only one event track, so everyone goes to the same big panel discussions or talks.

    This year there are two Books of Honor: Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford.

    Here’s my Thoughts on Always Coming Home a few days after reading it. In the comments thread, many people threw some great analysis into the mix. Here is a good entry point, from oyceter, to the many cultural appropriation discussions that caught fire a couple of years ago in (feminist) science fiction communities, discussions and posts of endless depth and beauty.

    In Always Coming Home, I appreciated the ways that Le Guin told stories about war. The smaller scale war was almost, well, consensual, between the two sides and the individuals who fought in its battle. Yet its buildup, and the conditions that brought it about, the small group or cult of warriors, had the tragic inevitable-yet-still-maybe-stoppable feel that I get from Icelandic sagas. The best bit were the discussions the Valley people had after the war. They were good and complicated.

    Here are my rough notes on Growing Up Weightless:

    Growing Up Weightless is good – dense – circular – I mean it seems best to read circularly in order to get the depth of it. really unusual & haunting. The scene with Avakian the old designer, as good or better as any similar weirding propheticism from Gene Wolfe – Oh maybe a little evocative of Hathor’s damaged speeches about the sails – The larping teenagers and their raw naive gestalt (reminding me of that story of the children raised in the floating sargasso sea-cities ) So aware of each other but not knowing how to talk to each other’s depths other than in game space and not even then. The idea – so floaty & soap bubble – of kids raised in the sort of way i imagined as the utopian future, kids bopping around, running as a team, learning stuff, doing projects, join a theater company, invent a microchip – incomprehensible cluster of age-mates, like twins-speech – And their utopian angst – always watched, always eluding – with even cleverer parents – What would they do? What would they learn? What is the plot in that sort of micro-utopia even if it’s just the utopia of a sensible education system and children with a decent set of human rights? The weird failed delicacy of the parents and of their own relationship – all very weightless itself – the composing scenes and the composer sleepign and waking as if full of music or light and noticing a hair from his busy partner’s head on the pillow. so I enjoyed the poetry. The light & shadow – and the dragons. The girls of the bunch, the kid’s mom too, significant and with their own agency clear – their own thoughts, dreams, burn with ambitions, on the cusp of decisions, thinking things they hardly dare hope, no one is overdetermined; beautifully. It’s a plot that achieves being poetic. I am extremely unbored. Will re-read while taking notes for the linear thinking bits of us all, because it does need notes and lines and character lists and some explaining.

    Well, I really look forward to Potlatch! It’s like a crazy all day marathon grad school seminar, where a hundred people have actually done the reading, the extra homework, weird special projects, and have years of deep background into the subject.

    You might not know that if you aren’t “in fandom”; but I am here to tell you that science fiction conventions, like LiveJournal discussions, are often dismissed by mainstreams and academics who would be *astonished* at the education available, the thoughtful conversations, the deep interest, and the process going on 24/7, in those places.