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Tara Books: Nurturing the Physical Book.


Our very first handmade book was born in 1996. Called The Very Hungry Lion, it came into being in a serendipitous way. I wanted to present the book at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and since we had no access to good computer outputs, I took along sample pages silk-screened on handmade paper. A Canadian publisher loved the concept--and bought the book, but there was one small caveat: they wanted the actual books--all 8,000 copies--to be produced exactly like the sample pages, by hand. I floated down the escalator after the meeting, and only when I reached the ground did I pause. How were we going to do this? I went to Arumugam, the screen printer who had made the samples, and his motto was reassuring: "Nothing is Impossible." So we began experimenting, stacking piles of handmade paper on the floor, and stirring vats of color using cricket bats. We found a small house for the project, and Arumugam started looking around for young people he could train to print and bind.

The process of bookmaking that we evolved and refined while creating The Very Hungry Lion has been the foundation of our handmade books enterprise. The book went on to become something of a bestseller--selling an astonishing 49,000 copies, each one of them made by hand. This year, it's been finally laid to rest, but a number of even more challenging handmade books have followed. Arumugam now runs an extraordinary print workshop, employing fifteen artisans he has trained into expert screen printers, binders, and bookmakers. The workers live together as a community, and the enterprise is run on fair-trade practices. The statistics are astonishing: they've created more than 180,000 books, which require eleven million impressions, or individual "pulls," for each color. The perfect finish they achieve for every book is incredible, considering the number of times it has to be handled, at each stage of production.


As far as we know, we're the only publishing house in the world that produces books by hand in these numbers. Our idea is to make artists' books in enough numbers so that they become affordable for an average book buyer. It's our way of nurturing the physical form of the book--with all its rich cultural history--in an age busy writing its obituary.

Gita Wolf is the publisher of Tara Books (
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Title Annotation:outpost
Author:Wolf, Gita
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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