Before we talk about the look and feel of Coach House Books, it’s worth noting the boilerplate printed at the end of each book:
Printed at the Coach House on bpNichol Lane in Toronto, Ontario, on Zephyr Antique Laid paper, which was manufactured, acid-free, in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, from second-growth forests. This book was printed with vegetable-based ink on a 1973 Heidelberg KORD offset litho press. Its pages were folded on a Baumfolder, gathered by hand, bound on a Sulby Auto-Minabinda and trimmed on a Polar single-knife cutter.
That’s a lot to digest. One way to cut through the jargon, specific brand names, and esoteric terminology is to simply appreciate how a book looks and feels. Look at it! Touch it!
When I wrote spirits recommendations for Alcoholmanac, I characterized myself as a sensualist and a materialist. Unfortunately, those terms have negative connotations in the United States, perhaps its because we have historically venerated (like unthinking, unquestioning sheep) an ethos of empty-headed industriousness and aspired to the baubles of an empty materialism. But that’s for another long-form essay on American mores and morals (and in-bred psychoses).
Back to materialism and sensualism: these are not negative, especially when appreciating the attributes of a thing. A book, like any other thing, exists in space and time and is comprised of matter. (Coach House also publishes ebook versions, but this essay is about appreciating the paper and ink version.) The three poetry collections – Obits., Midday at the Super-Kamiokande, and SKY WRI TEI NGS – possessed miminalist cover art and black-and-white author photos.
Inside each volume were poems printed on Zephyr Antique Laid paper. Covered with “vegetable-based ink” and manufactured from “second-growth forest,” Coach House lets it be known about their eco-consciousness. The Zephyr Antique Laid paper feels good to the touch. It has a rough-hewn aspect. Staring hard into the page one sees a tiny parallel grain, small horizontal lines running the length of the page. On Obits., I spotted a blemish. An ink splotch that looked like half of a squashed moth. It may have been a printing error, but it lends an individuality to the (mass-)produced product. So often we are confronted by the relentless homogeneity of mass production; or, the false idolatry of product exclusivity. These books cut across that atomizing and alienating divide. While they have print runs far smaller than whatever James Patterson sharted this week, they appear welcoming yet challenging to the reader. Why must the market keep feeding us divisive mythologies about the Uncouth Rabble and the Gilded Elect? Again, matters for a later essay.
Overall, Coach House Books produces eco-friendly and visually elegant literary gems. They look good and they feel good. When perusing the bookstore or library, let your reptile brain guide to what appeals to you. Look! Feel! While the written word massages the brain and enriches the intellect, interacting with the paper and ink on the level of sight and touch reconnects us with something more primal and primordial. The senses can teach us things beyond the artifice of morality and civilization.