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Preserving the value of the book

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Dr. Michael Riley’s appreciation for books goes deeper than the text.

He prints, binds and restores books the old-fashioned way — by hand.  He painstakingly lines the lead type into rows to form words. Those words become pages bound together into a custom-made book.

“It’s a tedious process just to set a page of type, lining up every tiny letter to print just one pageGeorgia College English professor Dr. Michael Riley prepares to teach graduate research students the age-old art of printing and binding.Georgia College English professor Dr. Michael Riley prepares to teach graduate research students the age-old art of printing and binding.,” said Riley, a Georgia College professor of English in the Department of English and Rhetoric. “When you talk about restoring a book, you’re looking at even more hours of labor. No one is going to spend that amount of time on a book unless the text really means something to them.”

Throughout the years Riley has rebound more than 50 leather books and hundreds of hardback books. During graduate school he created his own private press, The Pamami Press, where  he printed stories and poems.

After a 25-year hiatus Riley is restoring his personal printing press and his love for book printing and binding.
Cranking up the 1890s press Riley will resurrect his passion and teach his research students the age-old process to preserve the sanctity of the medium for future book lovers.

“Although we have technology like the iPad, Kindle and Internet, the book has a rich future,” Riley said. “Books are still important, especially if you have a personal attachment to a piece of literature.”

The Wizard

One text dear to Riley’s heart is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum. Riley has spent the majority of his life reading and analyzing the first edition collection of the Oz books and reprinting other short stories by Baum.

“It’s my favorite childhood story,” said Riley who earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. “When I was a teen I found out Baum too owned and operated a printing press in his teen years. And if I get interested in something, I’m going to investigate it, which is how I got into printing and eventually book binding to keep my books in shape.”

During 1997 Riley wrote his own Baum book, “Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum,” that analyzed Baum’s imaginative process to create fantasy worlds.

“Children’s literature is powerful,” said Riley. “Like the Oz books did for me, children’s literature gives us a great sense of what we can be. When a character does something incredible in a book, it’s like permission for us to make our dreams reality.”

To encourage book binders to pay more attention to accurate restoration techniques, Riley plans to publish a second book, “A Book Binders Analysis of the First Edition of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

“Almost any first edition copy of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,’ will need some work,” said Riley. “So much bad work has been done on this edition I’ve started analyzing it from a book binder perspective. I want to address the problems with it and highlight things you need to look at to restore the book in a more authentic manner.”

The Road

Riley took professional leave from teaching during spring semester to prepare his home-based print shop for students’ lessons during fall semester 2011.

He has been busy cleaning the print shop and organizing the movable type in his type cases. He has been running tests on the large cast iron, 121-year-old Challenge-Gordon press and the smaller 40-year-old Kelsey press.

“To get back into the swing of things I’m reprinting a cover for a Baum book I printed years ago called ‘Runaway Shadows,’ a short story never published by itself or in an edition in Baum’s lifetime,” he said.
Riley is preparing to demonstrate the ins and outs of printing and binding to graduate students enrolled in his research methods course.

“A big part of that course is the history of the book,” said the children’s literature scholar. “I’ve showed students my printing press machines in the past. Now they will see how it works.”

Eager to show students how the physical book still has value, Riley lectured this spring during a campus symposium, “Exploring the Future of the Book.”

His address defined the future of the book with the emergence of new technology.

“Books are still important, especially if you have a personal attachment to a piece of literature,” Riley said. “However, it’s also really great to have information at your fingertips.”

Riley’s graduate and doctorate degrees in 19th-century literature, music and culture from The Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University tied directly into his love of books.

“I studied 19th-century European and American romanticism. During that time some of the great children’s books were published — ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.’ These books still shape the imagination and perceptions of our children today,” he said. “My printing press and book binding skills are extensions of how influential books really are.”

ABOUT GEORGIA COLLEGE: Georgia College, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University, combines the educational experience expected at esteemed private liberal arts colleges with the affordability of public higher education. Its four colleges – arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences – provide 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students with an exceptional learning environment that extends beyond the classroom, with hands-on involvement with faculty research, community service, study abroad and myriad internships.

Founded in 1889, Georgia College boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation with Corinthian columns fronting red brick buildings and wide open green spaces. Georgia College also offers graduate education at the historic Jefferson building in downtown Macon, at Robins Air Force Base and online.

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