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A Degree of Mastery: A Journey through Book Arts Apprenticeship Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st Edition Thus edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140291938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140291933
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,257,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Borrowing a narrative technique from fiction writers, Wilcox alternates between the telling of two stories: a detailed account of just how you handle a book that needs restoration, set against the author's recollection of her experience as the first woman apprentice to the master bookbinder William Anthony at the University of Iowa. Wilcox has the craftsperson's eye for texture and nuance. This is a love story of sorts, although there is not a shred of sentimentality: the love of the apprentice for the teachings of a master; the love of the artist for the right tools; the love of the restorer for the object that needs care. When Anthony dies before Wilcox's apprenticeship is complete, we can see how his teachings have prepared her to finish the journey on her own. Controlled and unadorned, her chastely sumptuous prose pares experience like leather, so that the acts she chooses to illuminate for us--the art and act of teaching, the activity of learning, the relationship of tools to action--are silken and supple. GraceAnne A. DeCandido --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A meticulously crafted description of a writing teacher's apprenticeship in bookbinding and conservation with an internationally known master of the field. Wilcox tells her story by referring to the copious notes she compiled while serving as the first female apprentice to William Anthony, the founder of the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa. She found that writing down her experiences was the best way to ``hold onto the terrors and successes of learning a handcraft,'' and its her preservation of the freshness of her encounter with a new craft that makes this book compelling reading for those who may not share an interest in its rather narrowly focused subject matter. She draws readers into the world of book arts by immersing us totally in its richly descriptive technical jargon: Leather bindings have red rot (a condition that causes them to crumble at the slightest touch), pages are foxed (spotted with rust from bits of iron), books are rebound in alum-tawed pigskin. She describes restoration processes, such as chemical washing, mending torn pages, resizing, and sewing bindings, with such detail and precision that one is left with the impression that he or she is actually learning the craft rather than merely reading about another's experience. Her relationship with Anthony (who died of cancer before the end of the five-year apprenticeship program) is an integral part of her story, and she chronicles his patient advice and support as he guides her through her first restoration, teaches her to sew her first Coptic stitch across a binding spine, helps her to manufacture her own tools, and advises her on professional matters, such as estimating private restoration jobs. The rarity of such intense personal mentoring relationships in today's economic climate renders Wilcox's experience both a nostalgic throwback to an earlier era and a potential model for recuperating current pedagogical practices. Book lovers will love this book. (Bookof-the-Month Club alternate selection) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James Downey (legacyart@legacyart.com) on January 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Wilcox brings a grace and beauty to what could be a dry, technical subject. This is not a 'how to' book, though anyone familiar with the bookbinder's craft will gain insight into specific procedures. Rather, it is the exploration of why we love books, love those who love books, and love the preservation of an ancient craft, as it is handed from master to student. As her understanding of her craft grows and deepens through her relationship with Anthony, Wilcox shows us her heart and gives us a glimpse into the soul of this master binder. While the subject is bookbinding, the real story is that of passion for a craft, for the unique combination of intellectual, aesthetic, and physical skills that go into any fine craft. To share that passion with another, as Bill Anthony did in his teaching, and as Wilcox does in her book, is a very great gift, indeed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Ozonoff on July 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. At once a touching tribute to the renowned conservator and binder to whom the author was apprenticed, a look into apprenticeship, and an insight into the ethos of book conservation, the book is a delight to read. If you know even a little about how books are constructed (and even if you don't) you will learn a lot about the physical objects that obsess so many of us. After reading the paperback I went out and bought the hardcover. Destined to be a classic among bibliophiles.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By tzefirah on September 10, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A practical person can read this book as an extended essay on how to approach an apprenticeship, and how to bind conservation texts. A spiritual person can add layers to the stories and extrapolate life lessons. Either way, the main character/author is extremely sympathetic character. Her teacher had amazing gifts, both as a conservator and as a teacher.
The book is deceptively short. Looks like a quick read, but was so meaty and detailed, I found myself reading it for several weeks in order to digest all the material carefully.
If your taste runs to the obscure, the "sleeper," I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Neis on March 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A Degree of Mastery tells the story of one woman's journey through the education and apprenticeship necessary to become a book preservationist. Annie Wilcox, a bright woman with an impressive past in the field of English and writing, begins to take an evening class in bookbinding at the University of Iowa taught by a world-reknowned preservationist, William Anthony. Little does she know that not more than two years later she will become the first female apprentice ever to study under the direct supervision and teaching of Bill Anthony, an honored position granted only to six others before her. Through her apprenticeship, Wilcox learns the art of preservation and the dire need for conservation in every library, but especially those libraries that house an archives, manuscript or rare books collection. Through Wilcox's autobiography, the reader learns the basic process and means by which book preservation becomes possible as well as the importance and value of conservation in today's libraries. It is a wonderful piece of literature well-worth your time.
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