San Diego City Works Press’ distinctive approach to book as object
By Anna Daniels
“Books are now obsolete, so the library bureaucracy has long sought to become a quasi adult education institution or after-school study venue or someplace in between,” he said. Former California Assemblyman Larry Stirling on the Central Library.
Contrary to former California Assemblyman Larry Stirling’s recent misinformed and exceedingly dull assertion that “books are now obsolete” the book publishing industry is doing quite fine. It is only doing so well because there continues to be people who want to own and read books, whether in hard copy, paperback or electronic form.
While mass market publishing continues to flourish and self-publishing has increased, small independent presses have declined over the past decades. Those of us who can’t imagine a trip to San Francisco without a visit to the City Lights bookstore are an indication of the limited but passionate support that still remains for independent publishing.
Small presses release limited runs of titles and address a specific niche and readership which mass marketing publishers largely ignore. They seek out emerging talent, provide a platform for out of the mainstream views and take risks that go far beyond the financial– City Light’s publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1955 resulted in an obscenity trial.
Another small press hallmark is the attention to how the book as an object feels and looks. That means high quality paper and unique cover art and illustrations. San Diego City Works Press‘ release of Sunshine/ Noir II is a reminder of what small independent publishers can do better and differently than the big guys.
From cocktail napkin to cover art– the genesis of Some Like it Hot by Perry Vasquez
The cover art for Sunshine/Noir II is a real eye catcher. The immediately recognizable landmark of the Hotel Del Coronado exploding into flames is observed by a human skeleton peering through fence posts at the conflagration. The work is a seemingly effortless play on what Mike Davis describes as “the tourist spectacle in a city that holds illusion as a civic virtue.”
Artist Perry Vasquez provides some context for how the artwork evolved. It started in a bar over drinks with co-editor of the book Jim Miller.
We wanted to somehow involve San Diego’s signature architectural landmark, Hotel Del, in a disaster scenario. So I went down to the beach to shoot it from a variety of angles to get a real feel for the lay of the land. Why on fire? Well, fire offers an interesting technical challenge for a painter — it’s pure pyrotechnics. Of course there is also the famous film with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, Some Like it Hot, which was shot at the hotel.
Also, Hotel Del isn’t actually visible from the pickets at Friendship Park but including both of them on the cover was a good way of making the border visually present. The calavera is there to provide a certain noir point of view for the viewer.
Admirers of Vasquez artwork hope that the cover image will be available as a poster.
Touch me, feel me
Kelly Mayhew, the other co-editor of Sunshine/Noir II describes the sensory pleasure afforded by quality paper.
As a lifelong, obsessive reader, nothing gets me going more than the smell and feel of a book. I worked in a bookstore for several years and would riffle the pages as we arranged our stock for selling. What is such a pleasure and privilege in our publishing endeavor with City Works Press is that we have total control over how our books look and feel.
Our design crew—Will Dalrymple, our production editor who does all of the exquisite layout inside the books, Rondi Vasquez, our design editor who brilliantly creates the outside look of our books in collaboration with our authors, and me as the managing editor, midwifing our books into existence—works hard to create gorgeous texts.
After some trial and error, long ago we decided to always go with matte covers because of how soft they feel when you hold our books, creamy, slightly heavier paper stock for the pages inside, and a largish size so the volumes have heft.
We joke that we’re like a small craft brewer in our attention to not only to what goes inside the books we publish but also to the alchemy of text and context—its package, how it feels when you read it, what it looks like on your shelf. There’s a whole lot of love that goes into what we do at City Works Press. That’s what I mean about the paper.
San Diego City Works Press celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. Given the difficulties faced by small independent publishers, that anniversary is a testimony to the quality of their work and commitment.
Bibliophiles have an opportunity to look at, touch and purchase a copy of Sunshine/Noir II at the release party. Contributors (that includes me), will also read from their works in the anthology. Someone should invite Larry Stirling.
Sunshine/Noir II Release Event
Friday, October 16th at 6:00 PM
1815 Main Street, Suite B
To buy a copy of Sunshine/Noir II or any other San Diego City Works Press book go here.