There won’t be any other like it. Indulge me in sharing a few highlights before 2014 fades utterly away. It was the year not only of “Gutenberg’s Apprentice,” but the unveiling of a unique replica 15th century press at the St Bride Foundation in London, (shown at left) handcrafted by the printer and woodworker Alan May. I had the privilege of launching my novel right next to it, but couldn’t share the photos until it was formally presented two weeks later at the Printing History Society’s 50th anniversary conference “Landmarks in Printing.” To my delight and not a little abashment, I was allowed to address the conference’s heavy-duty contingent of early printing experts. Fresh from my three-week American tour, which included bookstores and type foundries, literary centers and colleges and libraries, I felt reasonably prepared, and thrilled to be able to share the few nuggets of hitherto unremarked research that might be of interest to bona fide scholars.
Many remarkable meetings occurred in my travels, but several in particular bear noting. Thirteen years ago I read about some research at Princeton; in Seattle last October I actually met the physicist who did that research (with the noted incunabulist Paul Needham) and thereby launched me on the mad enterprise of telling the story of the Gutenberg Bible. The odds of me meeting Blaise Agüera y Arcas were hugely long; it happened only through the happy chance of sitting next to his neighbor at a booksellers’ convention. The perfect synchronicity of it amazed me – as did Blaise’s timely appearance at a technology conference in London that allowed him to attend my British launch party. Another thrilling encounter took place in cyberspace, when I tweeted a photo of Peter Schöffer’s earliest 2-color types back at Erik Spiekermann, a world-renowned typographer and graphic designer who at the time I hadn’t heard of. A lively friendship has ensued, and the exchanging of many books and impressions as we both migrate between Berlin and London, and shortly, Munich (stay tuned for news of our panel at the DLD conference on the persistence of print in a digital age, which I’ve secretly titled “Gutenberg’s Revenge.”)
Twitter enabled that connection, as social media and email have allowed me to spread the news of the book far and wide to potential readers. I preached the Gutenberg gospel in newspapers, on the radio, in person, and even on TV. Through it all, I felt a marvelous, circular serendipity at work. I had followed my bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say, and it led me back home. The publication of my first novel, about my first love, printing, has sewn together so many disparate strands in my life, from printing to tech, from London to San Francisco. It is being read by atheists and Catholics, technologists and craftspeople; besides the big papers, it’s also been written up in Fine Books and Collections, InfoWeek and CatholicHotDish. I can’t help but think what a kick my grandfather, the mid-century type founder and compositor, would have gotten out of it all. Remarkably, my private obsession has done its own small part in bringing the wonderful craft of letterpress back into view.
*with a tip of the hat to Tom Lehrer, maker of irreverantly brilliant songs