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A bookbinding manual and an adventure tale, "China under the Covers" blends history, romance, and how-to as East and West connect.
A bookbinding manual and an adventure tale, "China under the Covers" blends history, romance, and how-to as East and West connect.
A bookbinding manual and an adventure tale, "China under the Covers" blends history, romance, and how-to as East and West connect.
145 backers pledged $5,912 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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"China under the Covers" goes to press

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The search for traditional bookbinding starts here, at the National Library of China. Photo: M.S. Davis
The search for traditional bookbinding starts here, at the National Library of China. Photo: M.S. Davis

China under the Covers tells how I wangled my way into the National Library of China to become apprentice to Zhang Ping, the internationally recognized conservator whose department handled the rarest, oldest, and best of Asia’s largest book collection. Under his watch, I learned to craft the five oldest forms of bindings, starting with the scroll.

Books receive the restoration treatment at the National Library of China. Photo: M.S. Davis
Books receive the restoration treatment at the National Library of China. Photo: M.S. Davis

I also traveled the country surveying traditional and modern practitioners of the binding and printing arts. With a Chinese companion I made a pilgrimage to far-west Dunhuang, at the edge of the Gobi, where the oldest printed, dated book in the world—The Diamond Sutra (868 CE)—was discovered in a walled-up cave.

My companion on that journey and others was a Chinese man whose work dictated that he never fraternize with foreigners. We fraternized.

China lays on the sights and color. Photo: M.S. Davis
China lays on the sights and color. Photo: M.S. Davis

After returning home to the United States, teaching bookbinding workshops, and producing a variety of handcrafted paper and book objects, I decided to write about the techniques and my education in China. A blend of how-to manual and adventure story, China under the Covers outlines the history of printing and binding from their birthplace with a few other escapades thrown in, such as falling down a Beijing manhole.

The Great Wall calls. Photo: M.S. Davis
The Great Wall calls. Photo: M.S. Davis

As a longtime bookbinder—having started with setting type by hand at Scripps College Press (for which Frederic Goudy designed a typeface)—I make and publish books that tell stories in a unique way. Whether it's a firsthand account from Tiananmen Square by Larry Hanbrook or a provocative poem by Charles Baudelaire, my imprint Ma Nao Books takes a close look at the world, often through an international lens. The form of the book supports its content.

All aboard for a China adventure. Photo: M.S. Davis
All aboard for a China adventure. Photo: M.S. Davis

Publishing this book myself was not my first choice. After gathering numerous glowing rejection letters (choice bits: "fascinating," "You have many strengths as a writer" and—my favorite—"I hope to see this book in print before too long"), I realized the bigs couldn't risk taking on my book without actually "seeing it"—it is, after all, an amalgam of a how-to Chinese bookbinding manual and a memoir-love story. 

It's Eat Pray Love for the bookish set.

More than any title I've published so far, this book summoned collaboration, help, and encouragement from so many people, who brought professional illustrations and design, superb photography, persnickety proofreading, and video know-how to the project. I am grateful and honored. And they are probably thrilled to have me stop talking about it!

Calligraphy draws a crowd. Photo: M.S. Davis
Calligraphy draws a crowd. Photo: M.S. Davis

This project has been years in the making, but it will arrive in time for Chinese new year 2017.

Your pledges get this book across the finish line, underwriting the costs of printing. So far I have paid the costs of preproduction and criminally low wages (sometimes no wages) to my collaborators, but now I need your help with the printing bill itself.

Plein-air haircuts are just part of the Beijing scene. Photo: M.S. Davis
Plein-air haircuts are just part of the Beijing scene. Photo: M.S. Davis

Thank you for helping China under the Covers get to press, and out into the world!

Don't play around—preorder your copy of "China under the Covers" today. Photo: M.S. Davis
Don't play around—preorder your copy of "China under the Covers" today. Photo: M.S. Davis

 

Risks and challenges

It is possible that I will not make it to press on time, and the project could be delayed. However, I rely on my publishing experience to meet deadlines, and am working closely with others to meet this particular deadline.

If I cannot meet the deadline for the current printer, I will change printers to one that delivers more quickly (even though its printing and paper may be of slightly lesser quality).

One thing's for sure: I will go to the Codex confab for book lovers in Berkeley, California, with an armful of books, no matter where they are printed, on February 5, 2017.

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    hǎo péng you 好朋友 (Good friend)

    I will display your name in lights on the Internet (or, if requested, credit you as "anonymous") at chinaunderthecovers.com. You also receive my eternal gratitude.

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    The apprentice

    A copy of the book, signed and delivered.

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    The master binder

    Two copies of the book, signed and delivered, and a hand-bound box made by author-bookbinder Margaret E. Davis.

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    The bibliophile

    Two copies of the book, signed and delivered, and a hand-bound portfolio made by author-bookbinder Margaret E. Davis.

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    The Sinophile

    Two copies of the book, signed and delivered, and a mounted photograph from the "Chinese Dreams" series selected by author-bookbinder Margaret E. Davis.

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Funding period

- (30 days)