October 1, 2007
Publishing That Lasts
Sitting on my wife's chifforobe I recently noticed a small, old, clothbound book. On the front was the title, True Liberty, the author's last name, Brooks, and a drawing of flowers printed on the case. The book is about 5" x 7" and only thirty-two pages, published by the Henry Altemus Company of Philadelphia (1842-1936), which started as a bookbinder and evolved into a publisher of photo albums, Bibles, decorative reprints of fiction, religious and moralistic books, juvenile series books, fairy tales, and puzzle books.
The Brooks of True Liberty was Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Episcopal rector of Trinity Church in Boston, located on Copley Square, where the Boston Marathon finishes. He is best known as the author of the Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem." True Liberty offers a meditation on John 8:31-32--that in Christ we find truth and, as a result, freedom.
I quickly spotted a typo on the title page which reads "Phillip Brooks." On the page facing the title page is found a formal black and white photograph of the author. The caption there, however, correctly renders his first name "Phillips." (Perfection has long eluded publishers.)
Now why do I mention all this? What actually struck me most was the handwritten inscription found inside the front cover. It reads,
Apl. 4th 1907
One hundred years ago a friend gave this book to my wife's great-grandmother. We don't know who the friend was or the occasion for the gift, but here the friendship or the expression of gratitude is memorialized. And a century later it still stands.
Electronic media is all the buzz, of course. And it is a wonderful tool for disseminating massive amounts of information instantaneously. It's great for reference searches and for handling brief, timely (easily dated) information. Sometimes the advantages of electronic are quite obvious and overwhelming. But will anyone have a CD-ROM on their dresser in a hundred years? Will the bits and bytes on the CD-ROM still be readable then? Will there be any machines in a hundred years that can read the CD-ROM format?
It's important to remember that while the data on a CD-ROM may last fifty years before it deteriorates, a book with acid-free paper (as many are these days) can last five hundred years. The world of electronic publishing has many advantages we are all blessed to be able to take advantage of. But if you want what you write or publish to last, do it as a book.