One story up from the street, behind the red-brick facade of one of Prospect Heights' row houses, lives the Crumpled Press. It's a very small publishing house that for the past five years has issued very small batches of quirky books and pamphlets, each one beautifully printed and hand-bound. Their publications range from a war memoir (When I Wished I Was Here, by Derek McGee) to a series of elegiac essays on the history and culture of an under-appreciated borough (Staten Island, by John Byron Kuhner) to an examination of the cultural implications and historical context of the digitization of books (Codex in Crisis, by Princeton professor Anthony Grafton).
The fact that the Crumpled Press lived here was, however, not immediately clear when my friend and I arrived at the address on a recent Sunday afternoon. "Doesn't really look like a business," she said, doubtfully, but when she called her friend—the author whose book we'd be binding that day—he showed up at the street door right away.
"So...is this the Crumpled Press, then?" she asked, when we'd taken off our layers and taken in the diverse crowd of workers sprawled everywhere, stitching and gluing. They were mostly friends of the author, with a healthy subset of friends of the publisher.
"You," said Alex Bick, one of the press's founders, whose apartment it turned out to be, "are the Crumpled Press, as of five minutes ago."
And we were, for the next couple of hours. Us, and the pots of paste mixed up in the kitchen; the neatly stacked squares of starched cloth sitting on the big dining-room table; the industrious hipsters stitching bindings in the living room; the big pot of turkey soup simmering on the stove to be fed to the stitchers and gluers; the smaller pot of allegedly vegetarian soup (no actual shreds of turkey visible) to be fed to the allegedly vegetarian stitchers and gluers.
The turkey soup turned out to be both delicious and necessary, which is kind of the point, I guess, of any Arts and Crafts movement-inspired product. Gluing book cloth to cardboard is a surprisingly whole-body activity. Jordan McIntyre, one of the other founders of the press, tended to lose his breath, gluing, panting, giving advice: "You've got to put the cloth down when the glue's still white; once it's clear, like that"—he pointed out a spot on my cardboard— "you'll get a bubble." Bookbinders hate bubbles. So given the unexpected athleticism of book gluing, the soup was an important bit of sustenance (notable also for the "craisins" contained therein).
Modern private presses, with their emphasis on craftsmanship, their embrace of traditional production methods, and their grassroots sensibilities, trace their origins to William Morris's Kelmscott Press, which he established in London in 1891. The Crumpled Press operates firmly within the Morris tradition, embracing moderate levels of inefficiency for the sake of the craft.
The Crumpled Press celebrated its fifth anniversary in December. The editors are currently hard at work searching out their next title. Meanwhile, they've sold out the first print runs of several of their books, and other titles are nearly gone. The editors know, of course, exactly how to solve that problem: make more soup, lay in a good supply of glue, and throw another party.