One for the books - The Explorer: El Sol

One for the books

Local bibliophile brings new life to Old World craft

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Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:32 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Nobody harmed a book in the Andersson home.

Nobody dog-eared a favorite page or made checkmarks in a margin. And it just stood to reason that no one would use a book as a stepping stool, a coaster or a collection of characters for creating wicked ransom notes.

After all, wouldn’t that be abuse?

The Andersson family revered books, which is partly why Picture Rocks resident Mark Andersson has dedicated his life to preserving them.

Andersson, owner of Panther Peak Bindery, will share his story during the Oro Valley Public Library’s third annual book festival. He’ll describe how books are made, tell how to keep them from falling apart, and say why that matters.

He’ll explain why he loves brittle paper leafs and worn bindings.

“It’s about preserving culture — preserving who we are and what’s important to us,” he said. “It’s also about not wasting things.”

Andersson grew up respecting books. He also grew up loving to work with his hands — something book preservationists do. As a kid, he’d descend into the basement and emerge with homemade gadgets. He fashioned a hydroplane and an electric ukulele.

“I took shop as much as they would let me take it,” he said.

Adulthood found Andersson teaching world history in Seattle. But in the mid-1980s, when he couldn’t find teaching work, he moved to Boston to take a job in a library belonging to First Church of Christ, Scientist.

“The plan was to do something new for a year,” he said.

A couple of years into his job, someone asked Andersson to fix some decrepit books. He followed written instructions, but he hated his results.

“I loved books too much,” he said. “I would fix books the way they wanted them fixed and go home and not sleep at night because I felt bad about what I was doing.”

What Andersson did next may seem beyond the call of duty, but for the bibliophile, it sounded perfect. He enrolled in a two-year bookbinding program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston that requires 35 hours of work a week.

The school, established in the late 19th century, teaches crafts including locksmithing and violin-making. Bookbinding apprentices learn more than anyone might think to ask about cloth, leather, gold tooling, onlays and paper repair.

“It felt similar to making furniture,” Andersson said. “It used the same kinds of skills, but in a much smaller space and without needing power tools.”

Andersson completed the program, took a job restoring books at the University of Washington in Seattle and next went to Sweden to repair books as a Fulbright Scholar.

When he returned to the North Bennet Street School, it was to teach.

For nine years, Andersson told his new students that bookbinding is intricate work. He told them they would start out thinking a quarter-inch was a small measurement and leave wanting to jump out of a window if they were a half-millimeter off. He told them they might work 60 hours on a book and then undo all that work in the last hour by messing up a finishing touch.

“I said everybody would cry at some point in their two years here, and it was true,” Andersson said.

The New York Times wrote about Andersson’s work. So did the Seattle Times and the Christian Science Monitor.

In December of 2007, Andersson and his wife moved to Tucson to be near family. Content to move beyond teaching, Andersson opened Panther Peak Bindery at his Picture Rocks home. The shop, which opened in March, offers repair services for ailing books.

“There’s no one in Arizona who does what I do,” Andersson said. “Half of my friends have said, ‘Maybe there’s a good reason for that,’ and the other half have said this sounds like a good opportunity.”

Business is picking up, Andersson said, though it remains to be seen whether the shop will be successful. Institutions of learning — usually big users of book-preservation services — are working with limited budgets these days. Most of Andersson’s customers are people who want to preserve certain books for sentimental reasons.

These books come in all forms, from modern mass-produced ones that have short life spans to old, tough ones bound in sheepskin or calfskin. Andersson said he likes all of them, because each tells a story. Through coffee-stained covers and worn-out spines, the books show they are loved.

“Nobody comes by and says, ‘Here’s a book; can you fix it?’” Andersson said. “Everybody says, ‘This was my favorite book when I was a kid, and I’m going to give it to my grandkid.’ When I’m working on it, I’m thinking, ‘He seemed like a nice guy. I wonder what his grandson’s like.’”

And the grandson is one of the people Andersson keeps in mind as he goes about the intricate work of book repair.

“I never feel I’m working for the person who’s giving me the book,” he said. “I want to work for the grandson’s kid — not even the grandson. I’m working for the people the book will end up with in 50 or a hundred years.”

Andersson featured at OV book festival

The Oro Valley Public Library’s third annual book festival, Open Book to the Future, will feature more than 50 local and regional authors offering book signings for readers of all ages.

Set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, at the library, 1305 W. Naranja Drive, the free event features keynote speaker New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, who will speak at 9 a.m.

Mark Andersson, owner of Panther Peak Bindery, is scheduled to speak from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Other exhibits include bookmark kits by artist Elizabeth McKee, the Not for English Majors booth, which showcases projects created from ideas in books checked out from the library, and a library information booth.

Entertainment will be provided by Jukebox Journey, and Desert Rain Coffee will provide refreshments. The book festival also will feature a bake sale to support the TeenZone and a silent auction.

Parking is limited, so a shuttle service to the event is available to and from the Naranja Town Site.

For more information, visit www.orovalleybookfestival.com or call 229-5300.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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