The Book of Sand, by Jorge Luis Borges, was first published in 1975 as part of his last major collection of the same name. In this work, Borges introduces us to a retired librarian (a fictionalized version of himself) who takes possession of an infinite and diabolical book (‘The Book of Sand’) which transfixes him to the point where he must abandon the book for the sake of his sanity and for humanity itself. Borges often wrote stories concerning the nature of time, and this short story is one of his best in that regard. The book the librarian takes possession of has no beginning and no end, no first page and no last page. “...perhaps it’s to give one to understand that the terms of an infinite series can be numbered any way whatever.” As one turns a page, new pages appear replacing the old, never to be seen again.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was an Argentinean writer, poet and essayist, best known for his works Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (1949). He is one of the most acclaimed writers of the twentieth century and is considered one of the greatest Latin American writers of all time. His work is best placed in the genres of magical realism and philosophical literature. As stated in the Nawakum Press prospectus, his writings have been referred to as ‘ontological enigmas’ incorporating fantastic and dreamlike elements woven into everyday realities. Borges won numerous writing prizes, including Prix International, and other honors, such as the French Legion of Honour. His never winning the Nobel Prize in Literature is a real shame, especially if it had to do with his conservative views. Borges was Director of the National Library of Argentina for 18 years (as an aside, the design of the book reflects the dual role the National Library; as a setting in this story and as a place he spent a significant potion of his life).
With all these accomplishments, it is remarkable that Borges was blind from 1950 until his death. His staunch anti-communist, anti-fascist and anti-Peron views were not always fashionable in the literary world and I wish more artists and writers shared his view that “the individual should be strong and the State should be weak. I couldn’t be enthusiastic about theories where the State is more important than the individual.”
Thomas Wood, who was commissioned to do the etchings in this book, has been artist for 30 years. He studied under master printmaker Luigi Arcuri of the Academia delle Belle Arti in Florence, Italy. Nawakum’s prospectus says “his art brings easily recognizable elements of nature and civilization into strange concrete fusion, often combining moral and metaphysical ideas in a delicate dance that at once both challenges and delights.” Seeing the etchings in this edition, it is hard not to agree. His work, as you will see below, is masterful.
David Pascoe’s Nawakum Press is producing some fantastic fine press works and I would encourage you to check them out. An earlier article on Books and Vines highlights four other books he has published. In addition, his latest publication, Outside, written by Barry Lopez with commissioned engravings by Barry Moser, looks fantastic.
About the Edition
- In English and Spanish, English translation by Andrew Hurley
- Etchings by artist and printmaker Thomas Wood of Bellingham, Washington
- Designed (in collaboration with), printed and bound by Peggy Gotthold and Lawernce G. Van Velzer of Foolscap Press
- Text is letterpress printed on Curtis Holcomb Text and handmade Cave Paper from Minneapolis, Minnesota in dual, accordion fold signatures
- Garamond types were cast by Michael and Winifred Bixler of Skanaeteles, New York
- Copper relief etchings, mirroring the style noted in the story, are designed into the text and printed from the copper plates on blocks mounted type high
- Two large copper etchings printed by the artist, recessed into boards covered with Japanese book cloth and with a Cave Paper overleaf
- The peak roofed book, taking inspiration from the Biblioteca National, measures 11″ x 13-1/2″ and is housed in a covered box made from Cave Paper over boards
- The cover label is letterpress printed on Cave Paper and inset with Japanese book cloth
- Printed fold-out overleaf of hand made Cave paper separates the primary etching from the signatures
- Limited to 30 copies, only 24 of which for sale
- Signed by Thomas Wood
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