Sunday, May 25, 2008

How Not to Burn a Book, by Ray Bradbury

Here's a book that got me into a little bit of hot water.
I was casting about for a text when I ran across this wonderful lecture that Ray Bradbury gave at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1975. The lecture had been printed in Soundings: Collections of the University Library, Vol. 7, No. 1 in September of 1975. I just thought that it was great, so I decided to print a small edition. This was in 2002.
I used some more of that paper that Henry Morris had given me - the offcuts from one of his books - so the book is one of those square things, 7-3/4 by 6-1/4 inches. It runs to 60 pages. Greg Campbell chose the binding material for the book, and as usual did a great job. The book was set by hand in Bembo, and a poem that was included was set in Lutetia. The titles were in Lilith. I printed a total of 27 copies.
Bradbury is such a playful and enthusiastic guy, and I wanted the design to reflect that, which is why I used the Lilith for display. I also used fists (pointing hands) to reflect Bradbury's kind of show-offy manner, his "look at me" approach in the lecture, which is charming and kind of childishly innocent, I think. So the fists point to each of the chapter openings (I broke the lecture up into chapters, which was not how the original was presented), and I moved them here and there, turning them upside down and even going outside the margin on one occasion.
I wanted to print these fists in bright shiny gold, so I got this gold ink. Boy, what a mistake! I learned later that you can't use this stuff on regular paper - it's made for use on coated papers. It also dries at an ungodly quick rate, and repeatedly dried on the press before I could complete a press run of only 27 copies! It was just a nightmare. And instead of being shiny gold (as it would look on a coated paper), it ended up looking like a dull brass color. Not terrible, but not what I had in mind either.
I also committed an error of careless language in the book. I put a little note at the beginning telling where the essay had originally been printed, and I noted therein that Bradbury had slightly edited the text from the spoken lecture. Well, several people were led to believe by this statement that Bradbury had edited the original for my edition of the book, which he most certainly did not (he had edited it for the periodical appearance) - indeed, I didn't even get his permission to reprint the lecture, being the unscrupulous pirate that I am. But I figured that 27 lousy copies couldn't represent much of a copyright infringement, and since I lost money on the deal, as usual (I sold the copies that I didn't give away for $45.00 each), I didn't feel too terribly guilty about it.
But I did feel guilty when I got a telephone call from Bradbury's bibliographer, who was not at all happy that I had printed the book and sold it out immediately. I apologized all over the place, and I told him that while I didn't have any more copies for sale, I would be willing to give one of my personal copies to Bradbury himself if I could get his address, which the bibliographer provided to me. So I sent a copy along to Bradbury, who did not acknowledge its receipt (I hope that he actually got it, but who knows).
Well, the price on the secondary market immediately skyrocketed, and booksellers started listing it at $600, $800 and more, apparently immediately selling their copies. Finally a bookseller in Santa Barbara listed a copy for $1,850.00, but interestingly enough, he listed the book as being signed by Bradbury. So I figure that if Bradbury signed a copy (and he lives in Santa Barbara, so it's a pretty safe bet that he really did sign this copy), then he at least was aware that I had pirated it - perhaps the copy for sale with his signature is the one that I sent to him, who knows?
Anyway, I'm pretty happy with the book, all in all, despite the problem with the gold ink. It is a great read, very entertaining and interesting. And that's my main purpose in printing - to print something that people will like to read, and hopefully in a form that increases their reading enjoyment. The last thing that I want is to make books that people will put on the shelf without reading - that would defeat my purpose altogether.

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