Book-Making and Other Analog Treasures

Geography Club movie actors
Geography Club image courtesy

Today in fiction writing class we participated in one tiny step in the small press book-making process. The process is fascinating. I doubt I have the correct terminology to explain the experience well, but here goes:

First we received a stack of collated prints. There are two pages of the book on each side of the thick paper (for a total of four book pages.) They are printed so that folding a stack of five in half creates one section of the book with the book pages now in the correct order. We needed to fold them down the center, carefully, and then use a plastic implement to press down this crease. The folded sections for each book are then stacked. Our class made quick work of, I think, about 30 of these.

All of these will eventually be punched and then sewn together with the hard cover to complete the process. An example of how these books will look (at least from the front) can be found on the Spork Press website.  Spork Press is a small press here in Tucson that our teacher helps run. He received a grant to create a book collection of our writing this semester. We are making a total of forty books so each of us can own a copy with a few extras for the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Obviously, my classmates and I are all extremely excited about this!

My friends know that I was an early adopter of digital media and I primarily purchase digital books, movies, TV shows, music, comics, etc. now. That does not mean, however, that I don’t appreciate physical media and the history of media. I feel so thankful to participate in this small way in the making of these physical books. This experience won’t keep me from the digital realm but it will be something I treasure forever. This is the time to enjoy the way things used to be or are currently, before everything changes due to technology. I value these moments immensely.

This evening I decided to relax and watch movies instead of doing homework. A new movie that has a limited release in select theaters today is also available on VOD as a rental. I have really enjoyed over the past few years being able to watch independent movies at home on my Apple TV while they are still in theaters, an obvious benefit of digital media and the cloud. The movie was Geography Club based on the well-regarded young adult book by Brent Hartinger:

Here is the quick 3-star review I left on Rotten Tomatoes and iTunes:

Every generation has their coming-of-age LGBT story. Geography Club isn’t breaking new ground, but there are a few twists to the usual storyline and the leads are really very good in their roles. Mostly the movie is uneven and episodic, but there are moments that are much more effective and creative. I especially liked a sequence of images that focused on some inanimate object in the foreground while the main character is out of focus in the background, finally coming into focus on him at a pivotal moment. The movie did convince me to read the book, because I suspect something was lost in translation to the big screen.

Movies like these with diverse LGBT representations can really help someone coming to terms with their own identity. What, then, are my generation’s coming-of-age LGBT movies? I don’t really know many LGBT from my generation, and certainly none that covet and review movies like I do, so I will have to give you my personal favorites instead (and eventually this is going to lead back to what I want to say about physical media.)

In my mid-twenties I discovered the 1997 movie Defying Gravity. It is low budget; the acting is, generously, uneven; and it might be considered too sentimental and obvious. Regardless, I absolutely love this movie. It speaks to me on a personal level, and despite the uneven acting, there are small character moments that still bring me to tears and joy. There is something so earnest about the film. I have watched Defying Gravity so many times over the years. Tonight I rented it on Amazon Video on Demand (it is not available elsewhere except on DVD.) Here is the trailer:

In 1999 the movie Trick was released. It is a romantic comedy about two men meeting in New York City and the chaos they run into over the next few hours while trying to find a place to hook-up. The great surprise of the film is Tori Spelling, who plays the main character’s best friend. Not only is she hysterical, but her own journey in the film is wonderful to behold. Tonight I purchased Trick on iTunes in high definition. Here is the trailer:

The problem with great independent films is that some of them are still difficult to find in digital format. They are even harder to find in high definition. My absolute favorite coming-of-age LGBT film is 2007’s Shelter. It also might be my favorite movie of all time (surprising, right, because I am so into science fiction and horror!?) It is also generally regarded by critics and viewers as one of the best LGBT movies ever made. Some have joked that it is “Brokeback Mountain for surfers” but it is so much more than that. It is truly one of those movies I can watch over and over again and still discover something new. The trailer:

Tonight I cannot watch Shelter because it is not currently available in digital format. To watch it in the past I downloaded it from HereTV’s clunky premium video website, now defunct, or rented the DVD. I did this so many times, though, that I realized I just needed to buy the DVD. Eventually I got rid of the DVD when I got rid of all of my physical media discs, fully expecting I would be able to purchase a digital version online. Years have now gone by and Shelter is still limited to DVD.

In the past I was adamant about removing all physical media from my life. Now, though, I find I have to be flexible for certain textbooks, books like poetry collections and small press, and some of my favorite movies and music. For example, I am eager to read the poetry of Joshua Marie Wilkinson (who also happens to be my craft of writing professor this semester) but his books are only available in physical form. Another example: the 1993 Toronto Revival Cast recording of Show Boat, featuring Lonette McKee’s incredible versions of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,” is only available on CD.

So, indeed, this evening I repurchased Shelter on DVD.

Why don’t I just check out my favorites from libraries, rent from the last remaining video stores, or just wait until they make their inevitable debut in digital formats? For most media, I do wait. There is something nostalgic and precious, though, about my tiny collection of my absolute favorite media in physical formats. This collection serves not only as a treasure chest but as a touchstone to the past. Despite my eager embracing of digital media, these few physical media seem somehow elevated. I will love Shelter no less when I can finally own a high definition copy in the cloud, but owning the DVD today reminds me of the years of technological development I have experienced and the physically mediated connection between this movie and my own coming out and personal history.

In addition to this collection, I also now have a collection of fond analog memories, including today’s book-making. There is no question that I am eager about the future and the changes it will fashion, but that does not preclude me fully experiencing the present and recalling the past. There is something delightful and enabling about fusing the past, present, and future in unique and personal ways. We are intelligent and creative animals existing between the biological and the technological, the analog and the digital, the real and the virtual, the literal and the figurative. Our physical artifacts are diffusing into the Metaverse, carrying their abstractions into further abstractions. There is no better time than today to revel in this strange between-space and between-time while holding on to, however briefly, our most valued analog treasures.