I was lucky enough to recently receive Chester River Press’s edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, printed by Deep Wood Press. I am not sure of how many synonyms I can find for “wow”, so I will just stick to one big WOW! That was my reaction when I opened the box, my reaction when I saw the binding and my reaction when I saw the illustrations and the sharpness of the text. Then, an even larger wow when I saw and felt the pages. Chester River Press hit it out of the ballpark in this production. Let me do things out of my normal order and show some pictures first, just to prove my point (keeping in mind my camera and photo taking capabilities are quite substandard).
(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)
Some books just have a look and feel about them that smacks of a quality and presence that demands not only attention and respect, but also establishes an immediate fondness in the lucky owner to the inanimate object he may now call his own. This is one such book.
Here are some of the “stats” around this edition:
- Quarter Blue Nigerian goatskin binding and Cockerell Paper over boards (binding and slipcase by Jon Buller at Bessenberg Bindery)
- 36 Original Drawings, 3 hand-colored drop-capital letters and a four panel center fold-out by maritime artist Marc Castelli (who also signs the book)
- Letterpress printed (at Deepwood Press) on Hahnemuhle Biblio cotton rag paper, using Dante and Castellar typefaces
- Designed by James Dissette and Chad Pastotnik
- Text edited to conform to the 1921 Heinemann edition
- Limited to 150 editions (mine is #53)
- Awarded first place in the 2010 Carl Herzog Award competition for excellence in book design
One thing that strikes me is the look, feel and aura of the book just seems to fit perfectly with the setting of Conrad’s masterpiece. To me, that is the essence of good design. Of course, reading Heart of Darkness is a treat. Gerard Cataldo, in his blog describes the book better than I could when he says that it “is all consuming, emotionally draining, rewarding in so many unforeseen ways, and certainly unforgettable“. Though it has been a couple years since I last read Heart of Darkness, I have read it multiple times and agree again with Mr. Cataldo we he says “I was overwhelmed by the story’s ability to capture my interest and hold my concentration with each reading. I couldn’t help admiring the structure of the book, Conrad’s use of narrator within narrator, and the risky use of double quotations, lengthy monologues, and the many images subject to interpretation. It all seems to blend, a perfect mixture, a successful experiment in literary technique and pure story telling.”
I am looking forward to curling up with Chester River Press’s production of Heart of Darkness, perhaps with a good, dark, well aged port (I am thinking only a Taylor’s would work here, probably a 1977!), to once again re-immerse myself into the labyrinth that is Conrad, this time in the greatest production of it that I could ever hope to enjoy.
Borrowing from Mr. Cataldo’s information sheet, let me tell you a bit about Chester River Press. Chester River Press was founded in 2006 by the Chestertown Old Book Co. The Press specializes in fine letterpress and offset book printing and publishing. Chester River Press prints and publishes fine editions of classic works, as well as modern literature, poetry, and history. They published Heart of Darkness in 2008, and followed that a year later with a beautiful (as seen in pictures as I do not own it yet) two volume rendition of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as translated by Alexander Pope.
I look forward to future works from Chester River Press and lovers of fine books should definitely keep them in mind. Gerard Cataldo, “Gerry” was extremely nice to interact with, clearly loves fine books (see his “The Passion for Books“) and certainly knows how to pull together an excellent production!