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The Book Bakery's Literary Recipe
Housed beneath a Parkdale caf, a revolutionary new publishing house-cum-art installation is producing tasty literary treats.

At the end of March, when I paid my second visit, The Book Bakery had not yet produced any books but was well stocked with the accoutrements, tools and doodads of the patisserie trade: cake stands and forms, metal pastry carts, various ornaments – a pair of large stainless steel Bs, as well as several plastic clown heads – and five bottles of McCall’s drages, the silver sugar balls used to decorate confectionaries. The drages, in sizes from 2 mm to 15 mm, sat on Ikea shelves (a close-up image of these candy beads also serves as the Bakery’s Twitter avatar). Pierre Berton’s The National Dream was displayed on a pedestal beneath a plastic dome. The Bakery occupies a corner of the basement of Capitol Espresso in Parkdale, surrounded by bags of coffee beans and soy milk. It’s a surprisingly sunny space and the light that pours in from the street illuminated a trio of cheap black-and-silver machines, none bigger, really, than a breadbox. These have the names of superheroes with very specific powers: the Cutter, the Creaser, and the Binder. The latter contains a metal reservoir in which Chiclet-like glue pellets are heated up to 170 degrees Celsius, melting into a white-hot liquid that securely binds a book’s pages to its cover. The writer Derek McCormack, who is the Bakery’s proprietor, was helping Ken Nicol, a Toronto-based artist, hang a curtain to cordon off the Bakery from the rest of the basement. Nicol, with a long beard, ponytail and nose ring, looks like a biker and not at all like the kind of guy who would make the kind of fastidious, obsessive art that he does: tiny glass bottles filled with the ink scraped off of hundreds of index cards, for example, or moir patterns produced by repeating numbers on an old typewriter. Nicol is also a metallurgist and will be manufacturing special jewelry for the Bakery – earrings and pendants based on decorating accessories – as well as a series of notebooks consisting of graph paper that he will draw by hand. After the curtain was hung, he quickly assembled a display table, installed more shelves. McCormack stuck his hand in a bag of Peak Freans, pulled out a cookie. “You know what would be nice right now? Christmas music.” The Book Bakery is a print-on-demand publishing house-cum-art installation, part of a growing franchise called Publication Studio that originated in Portland, Oregon. PubStud, as he jokingly likes to call it, is the brainchild of Matthew Stadler, an acclaimed novelist and editor, the co-founder of Clear Cut Press and the literary editor of the defunct and much-missed interiors magazine, Nest. Frustrated with a conventional, moribund publishing industry whose heedless – and increasingly hapless – methods had resulted in too many books and not enough readers, Stadler started Publication Sudio in 2009 as an “experiment in sustainable publishing.” Producing inexpensive, limited runs of handmade books by artists and writers Stadler admires, its mission was also to strenuously cultivate an engaged reading public. As he puts it: “Publication Studio is a laboratory for publication in its fullest sense – not just the production of books, but the production of a public. This public, which is more than a market, is created through deliberate acts: the circulation of texts; discussions and gatherings in physical space; and the maintenance of a digital commons.” Stadler is a charismatic evangelist and, over the last two years, PubStud outposts have sprouted in Berkeley, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Chicago. Stadler and McCormack discussed a Toronto operation when McCormack – the author of the singular, delightfully diabolic novels The Haunted Hillbilly and The Show that Smells – stayed with the former while on a book tour (Stadler has a room in his house often inhabited by visiting Canadian writers that he calls the “Poutine Suite”). “I thought, my gosh, that would be a lark,” McCormack says. “I also thought it would be financially prohibitive.” But with the book industry in constant turmoil – RIP Key Porter, H.B. Fenn, Pages, Borders, et al. – and publishers overwhelmingly focused on electronic books and readers, the price for small-scale print-on-demand technology was falling quickly and dramatically. McCormack enlisted help: Alana Wilcox, the editorial director at Coach House Books, secured start-up money, and Michael Maranda, an artist and assistant curator at the Art Gallery of York University who’d been experimenting with print-on-demand in his own work, sourced and set up the machines. A volunteer board of directors that includes acclaimed multimedia artists Darren O’Donnell and Micah Lexier was formed, and the Book Bakery – McCormack prefers the campier name to its official appellation, Publication Studio Toronto – was born. I’ve known McCormack for almost 25 years, and we lived together for most of that time. I’ve never seen him so much as lift a whisk. (He does say that, as a kid, he used to make Wacky Cake, a simple chocolate cake that uses no eggs or milk.) But asked now about his role as chief baker and he launches into the same kind of revolutionary rhetoric that Stadler employs. “As everything shifts to digital,” he says, “we’re asking ‘What do books mean to people?’ We want to produce handmade, deluxe books but we want to produce books that people can afford. Our first year will really be devoted to making interesting things and getting them into people’s hands.” The first three interesting things will be an eccentric novella by Pasha Malla, essentially, the transcription of a documentary about peacekeeping run through a Google translator that translates the writing into the languages from the countries in which the film is set; a series of short stories by novelist Andrew Kaufman, each a page long and typed on vintage letterhead; and a children’s book by Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey, with illustrations by renowned architect Will Alsop. Forthcoming Book Bakery titles include books by artists Shary Boyle and Emily Vey Duke; a travel book, with photographs, by poet Ken Babstock; and an illustrated screenplay by Guy Maddin. “Our primary focus is on books that are less literary and more visual,” McCormack says, “or that have an experimental format or layout. I don’t want writers here with the novel they’ve been working on for six years. I want things that no one would ever publish.” It takes the Bakery about 45 minutes to make one book, but that time largely consists of setting up and calibrating the Cutter, the Creaser and the Binder – as well as the laser printer that produces the actual pages of each book. It takes, therefore, only 50 minutes to make 15 books. (Each title gets its own recipe card, with the book’s measurements and other details printed on it, so that any volunteer – the Bakery has about a half-dozen people eager to make books – can operate the machines unassisted.) Print runs will be extremely small, about the size of a morning’s batch of muffins; the first three books will only be printed in quantities of 50 or 100. They’ll be available for sale online (and occasionally, when there are extra copies, at Type Books, where McCormack works part-time). “You should see how excited the kids upstairs get,” McCormack says, referring to the young owners of Capitol Espresso, who also are in bands and run record labels. “This fits into how they want to produce culture. Small-scale, cheap, largely specific to where they live and work. Publishing is obviously not dying, just like vinyl hasn’t died. We’re just working in a different economy.” He grabs another cookie. “We’re asking, can you do something you like locally and still pay the rent and have fun? At this point in my life, that’s utopian.” The Book Bakery will be open for business in May. Visit www.thebookbakery.biz to order books, or for more information.

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