Don’t judge a book by its cover

This piece was originally published on September 12, 2016 on the OU News Bureau’s website.
By Shana Bosley


ANN ARBOR — Bookworms of all kinds came to the 14th annual Kerrytown Bookfest to crack open books, learn some tricks, and meet new and established authors.

At first mention, a bookfest might sound predictable, but the Sunday, Sept. 11, Bookfest was anything but. With an estimated 3,500 attendees and 100 vendors, it featured not only booksellers and authors, but also illustrators, artists, publishers, papermakers and bookbinders.

Medieval makings

One intriguing tent was hosted by illustrator and author Randy Asplund. His work includes bookbinding, paint making and dye making, paper making and illustration — all done with medieval techniques.

“I was involved in medieval re-enactment as a hobby, and I was working as a science-fiction/fantasy illustrator,” Asplund said. “I was learning more and more about how they did medieval manuscript painting and books. Eventually, I started doing some science-fiction/fantasy art with medieval (themes).”

Randy Asplund, 55, shows Pablo Alvarez, 49, how to get the richest and deepest hues of paint and dye from plants and powders using only medieval techniques. PHOTO/SHANA BOSLEY

His beginnings surrounding medieval fascinations fostered a foundation of precision and passion for procedures of the past.

“As computers came along and people started doing computer art more and more, the prices that (they) were paying were getting lower and lower,” Asplund said.

“When they really bottomed out, I decided I’d had enough and that I’d try to make a go at it through medieval books because I’d been learning how to do medieval book art for so many years that people had been asking me to write a book on it.”

Eventually, Asplund found himself catching up to his competitors and mentors.

“As I started researching it more and more, I came to the point where I knew enough about it that I could do a better job with a book if I added more steps,” he said. “So I added how to make parchment. I had to teach myself how to make parchment from animal skins. I thought, well, I’ve got the whole book, all illustrations and everything, I might as well add bookbinding to it. So I taught myself medieval bookbinding.”

He perfected ancient recipes without modernizing them and condensed the teachings into his own medieval methods.

“I look at all the different recipes and figure out what they have in common, and I start experimenting,” he said. “I find out what truly works and what doesn’t, and I write the recipe down. It can take years. It’s very tricky chemistry. I’ve had scholars from around the world ask me, ‘How did you get the color? We haven’t been able to do that.’ ”

Behind the book

Also in attendance this year was Michigan Publishing Services whose booth was hosted by Allison Peters, Digital Publishing coordinator. She showcased published literary works — including science, social science, humanity and art-related books — written by students, faculty and staff at the University of Michigan.

“We do sciencey things (like) a pharmacy textbook,” Peters said. “We do creative things (like) a book about the People Mover in Detroit.”

“We have a lot going on, and we represent everyone on campus in different (ways) by providing our different services like copyediting, indexing, typesetting, cover design, proofreading, printing, print distribution, open-access digital conversion, marketing and metrics, digital preservation,” Peters said.

Peters encouraged aspiring writers to approach Michigan Publishing Services about getting their work out to the public.

“There’s a lot of potential for helping people learn about the publishing process and empowering everyone to learn how to make a book or start their own journal,” Peters said.

Picture this

Another reflection of the variety at Bookfest was independently published illustrator and author Robb N. Johnston, who writes and illustrates picture books for readers of all ages.

“I was teaching English in Japan, and I was using all of these picture books that I had grown up with here in Michigan,” Johnston said. “That was pretty cool that I was using those same books on the other side of the world to teach kids in another country, and I decided to write a story and pair it with some pictures I’d done and become a part of that world.”

His latest work, a story called “Craves,” is due for release soon. It was inspired by a conversation he had with a retired teacher at the 2014 bookfest.

“(He was) lamenting that there was no picture book to teach very young kids about addiction,” Johnston said.

He said he is now finishing a story that conveys the desired message in such a manner that is appropriate for early readers.

Behind the booklets

Each year, vendors and authors are given a theme. This year’s was travel.

The Kerrytown Bookfest is “a celebration of everything about the book from printing, binding, writing, selling. Every aspect of the book is covered,” said President Robin Agnew, left. With her is Sharon Gambin, the organization’s vice president. PHOTO/SHANA BOSLEY

“There’s all kinds of travel: traveling through your own brain, travel through time,” said Robin Agnew, Kerrytown Bookfest president. “We try to keep the theme somewhat general (because) if it’s really specific, it’s really hard to program.”

The nonprofit Kerrytown Bookfest, which is run by volunteers, has grown over the years. The organization now receives enough donations and sponsorships to help authors.

“People donate money, and we get a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, and that helps us pay the authors, rent tents, rent our space, all the different things,” Agnew said. “We really like to support the authors’ travel because it’s their time and expertise.”

Show and tell

Author Jennifer Friess, 40, showcases her three-book series called The Riley Sisters. “Each book is about a different sister, so they can be read together or separately. The first book was a dream I had, and the next two books grew out of the first,” Friess said. PHOTO/SHANA BOSLEY

Author, blogger and editor Jennifer Friess had on display a series she wrote made up of three novels.

“This is The Riley Sisters series. It’s new adult romance,” Friess said. “Each book is about a different sister, so they can be read together or separately. The first book was a dream I had, and the next two books grew out of the first.”

Some writers who perfect their literary talents into a book or books begin doing so early in their aspirations. Friess wasted no time in this endeavor.

“I have always written. My friend and I used to ditch lunch in high school to go to the computer lab and write,” Friess said.

The Kerrytown Bookfest is an opportunity for readers, writers and artists to share their passions for all things art- and literature-related.

“It’s nice networking and talking to readers and other authors, and there are so many wannabe authors that walk through here to see what other people are doing. Just do it: get that first draft done, and revise it and revise it,” Friess said.

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