Evolution

My great grandfather, Ferdinand Coin Ray (left, circa 1915)

My great grandfather, Ferdinand Coin Ray (left, circa 1915)

I know hardly anything about my great grandfather except that he was a bookbinder. He was a bookbinder, and one of the only pictures I have of him is at work: He wears a heavy apron and leans on the press. He worked in a Philadelphia bindery in the first part of the Twentieth Century, when bookbinding was more an art than a trade…books were made to be lasting, beautiful things. His daughter, my Great Aunt Ada, went on to work as a bookbinder long after he had died…she came to it not through fatherly guidance nor nepotism, but through genetics…she loved books. That’s my mother’s side of the family.

When I was a boy, my father worked at Curtis Publishing in the Curtis Center across the street from Philadelphia’s Washington Square, where he managed production of The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Holiday, and other national titles. In his heyday, his job included receiving Norman Rockwell paintings when the paint was still wet so they could be photographed in time for the Post covers. Our home was filled with all the Curtis magazines, renewed on a weekly and monthly basis. My father also loved books, but magazines were a kind of next-generation of accessible reading. By the end of the Twentieth Century, books and magazines survived because they were a trade…an industrialized way to package, present, and distribute information and entertainment.

I grew up loving books, loving magazines, reading fiction, history, biographies, and how-to books. I was introduced to the classics when my father brought home a new Classics Illustrated comic book every other night during the summer of 1962…I learned the plots and characters of so many classics…from The Iliad to The Time Machine. Yes, television was a big part of my growing up in the 1960s…but that was different for me than reading. I loved the permanence of a book and the link to the past that a book carries. I received new books for my birthday and read my parents’ old books or borrowed books from the library.

Now I find myself embarking on this blog…the next next-generation of accessible reading. It feels very different to communicate this way. The blog has an immediacy to it that is faster than a newspaper’s…I write it, post it, and someone else can read it (if I’m lucky) instantly. The blog has an evanescence to it that is more fragile than a television show’s…I can rewrite or even retract my blog post at any given moment. But that immediacy and that evanescence give it its power: My readers will want to find it, read it, be impacted or impressed, and move on. No time for Moby Dick or Atlas Shrugged here. But I’m finding it harder to write like this than to write Moby Dick! I find my idea, develop it, hone it, give it a point, and make it stick…then move on. I aim at making it a lasting, beautiful thing that has immediacy and evanescence…kind of like my great grandfather did.