Making Books and Learning Slowly

Before my mother married my father in 1946, she worked at Wright Field (now Wright Patterson Air Force Base). As a going away/wedding gift, Mom’s mustachioed co-workers down the hall in the art department (yes, the Air Corps had an art department) created this little home-made booklet for her in response to her comment “I’ve never been kissed by a man with a mustache.”

The book is so charming, the illustrations and intent so sweet.  And now it’s become one of my most treasured possessions. Look closely and you can see the human touches: the pencil marks, the erasures, the gestures, the staples. The illustrations clearly caricature the artists, just as they tell the story of a time and place very different from today.  The homemade book lives and breathes, long after the people who made it are long gone.

The homemade book is beautiful and charming, and touches us for years. The real charm of the homemade book, however, is what the act of bookmaking does for the bookmaker.

DIY bookmaking requires us to slow down, think, notice, compose, contextualize, design, illustrate and organize.  We have to care deeply for how the whole thing is packaged or it might easily fall apart. If there’s a fundamental difference between reading a book and skimming web pages, imagine the difference between reading and creating a book.  Students in Waldorf schools learn to make their own books, why not adult learners?

3 thoughts on “Making Books and Learning Slowly

  1. I was in a Waldorf school for grades 1-4. The books might look pretty, but the making of them can be extremely tedious. We had to copy every picture and page of text from the blackboard (pressing firmly with coloured pencil crayon for the writing), and I was always way behind everyone else in my copying (because it was boring) and had to finish during lunch hour or take it home to do. I think a little bit of creativity was allowed with the pictures in later grades but not much. Perhaps I had the wrong teacher, but I think he was following the tradition very strictly. That’s another problem, if you get a bad teacher you are stuck with them for eight years.

    The moustache book is wonderful though (you should share that with the blog if it’s not too personal) …and your “So What?!” book.

  2. That’s kind of funny, Kaia. So much of what I find inspiring about Waldorf education (the homemade books, Eurythmy, studying with one teacher over time) is what actual Waldorf students find insufferable. Given your experience, I think the Waldorf practice of copying (literally painstakingly) what is prescribed may not be, in practice, making or creating a book. The challenge and the joy of making a book is not copying a book. Thank you for calling me on this!

  3. Well, the examples on the page you linked to were by homeschooled children – it’s possible their parents interpreted the Waldorf ideas a bit more liberally and the books are actually closer to what you had in mind.

    I’m pretty sure I enjoyed Eurythmy — I hope no one you’ve talked to really found it insufferable — maybe I had the RIGHT teacher for that (it wasn’t taught by our main teacher).

    We were talking yesterday about how it’s beneficial (usually) to have some fixed structure for a creative practice, and then there can be freedom (creativity, improvisation) within that rigid framework. I think on the scale from complete freedom to completely fixed ritual with no room for deviation, the traditional Waldorf methods are closer to the latter, and very consistently so, meaning that there is a small amount of creative expression in just about everything you do but there are no times set aside for pure creativity, even in art class. Depending on what your priorities are, maybe this IS more beneficial for children than having very matter-of-fact math and grammar classes, and then an art class where you are told to paint whatever you want.

    I recall Waldorf watercolour lessons where we had to do things like paint the entire sheet of paper a single colour (wet-on-wet). Not what most people would call creative. But the flow of colour in water is subtle and as you become attuned to it you realize how in some sense you are in control of it, and yet at the same time you are not, which is training for the intuition. And everyone’s painting did come out differently (and they were displayed on the wall with our names on, not thrown away). And we had the experience of covering an entire sheet in flowing blue paint, which sticks with you on a deep level.

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