Edgar, Oscar and Elizabeth Little
How many people date a new era of their lives by reading a book. ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden
For me, it was not reading, but accepting a book that marked a new era in my life. In the summer of 2000, a boy I had just met while studying in Paris returned from a weekend excursion to London with a gift for me. This gift required no special occasion; it was intended only as a thoughtful token. From a wrinkled paper bag that served as a gift wrap, I pulled out an old edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s work.
The sight of my face must have been a real mess, because even though he had only known me for ten days, he had chosen the perfect gift. Antique books? Check. Favorite author? Check. French connection? Check. (The book’s preface was written by Chateaubriand.) In one of our few conversations so far, I had to mention my hopeful old collection of books, perhaps as we walked through a bookstore in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Armed with this cleaning, he took the time during an otherwise wild and crazy London weekend to find me a book, and in the first few seconds of holding the book in my hand, I realized that a new era had begun in my life. I’d rather wait for the boy.
Fast forward a few years. The boy from Paris and I got married for a few years when I returned to our house, and immediately noticed that our dog was not in a hurry to the door to welcome me back. We recently adopted an Oscar from a local animal shelter, or “juvie,” as my husband calls it, and although he was an adult at the time, he was still at the end of his puppy. In other words, he chewed everything he could get his teeth on. See where I’m going with this? I knew right away that Oscar was useless, and I heard his fingernails clicking on the wooden floors in the guest bedroom.
Here is the part where I tell you that my old collection of books lived in the guest bedroom. When I finally gathered the courage to look, what I saw could be most accurately described as a ticket show. It was as if the Tasmanian Devil and Cookie Monster were spinning through a room, smashing, tearing, tearing, and sintering along the way. Oscar was ruthless. Eight-dollar pillows lay unscathed on the bed as stains of antique books dragged across Paris from the ocean floated like snowflakes. Voltaire, Proust, Racine-away, away, away. Although I gained equal access to newer books with less sentimental value, he decided to submit his most valuable books to his pointed tops. Out of kindness, luck, or time constraints, Oscar did not beautify my precious book about Poe, even though his spine tore at her and relaxed. Doggie’s discipline was the last thing on my mind as I collapsed in tears on the confetti-covered floor. Oscar slipped out of the room with a vision of a juvie in his head, his tail between his legs.
Now fast forward for several years. The fragile books that escaped complete destruction at Oscar’s paws are in the back seat of my car, and we’re going to meet Elizabeth Little in New Iberia. Elizabeth owns Bayou Bindery, a company I learned about during the Louisiana Book Festival in October. With my mouth agape, I looked at the photos before and after the ones exhibited at the festival, because I honestly didn’t know that my torn books could be recovered. Those dramatic photos – I think Extreme Book Makeover – made me a believer, and a few weeks later I was at LA 31, damaged books in tow.
Bayou Bindery is housed in a lovely cottage in the central district of New Iberia, and when I arrived, the front door was wide open to allow even more natural light inside. Elizabeth causes her bibliographic wonders to take place in a tidy and charming workspace that contains photographs and reminders of friends and family, a beautiful chandelier and avian decorative touches. And even though the cottage is not the place where Elizabeth lives, you feel at home. After completing these welcome elements, the book prints in the corner, the sewing frame on the floor and scalpels, and other hand tools on the wall remind you of the subject of business.
After a quick glance at my damaged goods, Elizabeth asks, “Do you have a dog?” She must have seen these cruel bites before. I tell her the story of the Oscar, including Poe’s book and the meaning it has for me and my husband. We decided she was the first to go under the knife, especially when she told me that her mentor (more on her later) had just restored the Poe’s family’s Bible for an exhibition at a library in Virginia.
Although at this point I feel that my book Poe should have been restored in Bayou Bindery, he feels my basic hesitation. Elizabeth gently asks me what she asks all her nervous clients, who are connected to the “original” state of the damaged books: “Do you just want to look at the book? Or do you want to be able to actually read it and pass it on to your children? “She was absolutely right, plus a renewed book would be the perfect Christmas present for my husband. (Although not a surprise.)
And the magic of Elizabeth’s work is that the restored book is not a shiny, soulless and unrecognizable edition. It’s your fascinating old figure book, just stronger. It can reverse the damage caused by aging books inside a book, or it can do more cosmetic work than in the case of an attack on a dog. “I like to work with my hands,” she told me, and it’s all my hand to deftly disassemble a damaged book so she can assess and fix the underlying problems.
Remove the covers and spine to reveal the defective lining or glue or damaged threads that hold the pages together. Elizabeth explains that deteriorating books are often the result of lining that was too sour, and occasionally come across old music notes or newspapers like book coverings. It whips wheat paste, which not only removes the old lining, but also serves as an adhesive for the new Japanese acid-free tissue lining. If sewing the pages back together is required, Elizabeth manipulates her linen thread and needle with the device. Years of sewing clothes for her children have paid off.
I was like a three-year-old and asked, “What’s he doing?” For almost everything my eyes fell on the binder. Elizabeth spent the day patiently explaining how to repair torn pages (using different weights and shades of oriental tissues), missing leather wrappers with pieces in the shape of a dog’s mouth (a process that involves shaving and tapering a new piece of leather to fit the width of an old one), or worn hinges. (wax pastels or watercolors are used to paint the original). Her extensive knowledge and collection of tools led me to assume that she studied craft at the university level and has been a practical craft craftsman ever since, so I was amazed to find out that she only started bookbinding about ten years ago.
On the way to visit her sister in Virginia, a bookbinder aroused her curiosity, and soon after, Elizabeth worked one-on-one with a binder that was to become her mentor. In Winchester, Virginia, Jill calls the Deiss-of-Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding and speaks about it with obvious respect and admiration. “I feel like I’m learning the right way.” Although the formal apprenticeship is over, he continues to consult and learn from Deissa. Only this year she took part in two Master Series courses at Cat Tail Run. She learned more about paper repair last spring, and in October she was there to learn about tools for making gold leaves. (I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but someone close to Elizabeth will unpack a Christmas book with beautiful details of the golden leaves at Christmas. He’ll use his new skills quickly!)
So she never intended to be an expert; she had just found a new interest and was running with him. Elizabeth’s friend once told her: “Some people come across new projects and just stand there on the edge and look down into the hole. And although she never expected to be a bookbinder, she is not shocked. “I’m very task-oriented. I’m a project man.” Her other “projects” include a nursing career (after many years as a nurse now volunteering one day a week at a clinic in Lafayette) and an educational garden at a local primary school. It embarrassingly describes a recent school visit, where she made a pesto with the students because of the thriving basil, “and they loved it! It just proves that if they grow it, they will eat it, or at least give it a chance. “
We laughed at her work in high school, where she worked in the basement repair department in the city library. Her instructions were, “All you have to do is slap a tape and put it back in circulation.” Even then, she never thought she would go to repair books. And although she is a passionate reader, she does not have her own collection of books. She told me, “Books talk to you at different times in your life. I enjoy the books that come to me, and then I pass them on. “
With a steady stream of interesting books going through weaving, I don’t think he really has to collect it. She recently worked at Roosevelt Rough riders, in the collection of the McIlhenny family. (John Avery McIlhenny left Tabasco to join Roosevelt’s cavalry regiment in 1898.) The Thoreaus Company in California sent it A week on the Concord and Merrimack rivers for return. He especially enjoys reviving the family Bible, the nineteenth-century French prayer books sent by the locals, or the yearbooks of the Second World War battalion, which seem to come into custody in the waves.
As we walked through the city after lunch, a new project came to her. We slipped into the soon-to-be Bayou Teche Museum to sneak in when the director said to Elizabeth, “I was hoping you’d stop. I have something I want you to see. ”As she left the museum with a huge and dusty old guest book from the Frederic Hotel for restoration, I thought,“ Every city should have a tie. ”When she was excited as a child at Christmas morning, Elizabeth opened the book as soon as we returned to custody and read the names of past guests of the historic hotel.
People always ask her, “What is the value of this book? How much does it cost? ”But Elizabeth is not so impressed with the monetary value, rarity, or first edition of the books. “It’s more interesting to me why people are so attached to them.” Many of her clients are older people who want to pass on their beloved book in good condition. “I feel a legacy working on these projects.”
Elizabeth Little and her Bayou Bindery will now be among the main players in the story told when we pass on our Poe book to the next generation. Garrison Keillor once said, “A book is a gift you can open again and again.” And while that wasn’t entirely true to the amazingly fragile book I received in Paris, it’s certainly the reason for this renewed Christmas gift.