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Why do you call it Mordecai Book Building?


Part 1: Why Mordecai?

The name Mordecai comes from the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. Mordecai's cleverness saved the people of Israel from genocide and foiled an assassination plot on the king, which led to the hanging of Mordecai's enemy from the very gallows built to hang Mordecai himself. It's not a simple story, as you might guess, but I always thought Mordecai was an unsung hero.

Also, he positioned himself at the king's gate, which was the inspiration for the "gate" logo for MBB.

Part 2: Why Book Building?

As you may have read in my history, I didn't have a very typical education in bookbinding. The skills I learned were intended to get work done. Most of the work we did was very rudimentary. I learned to sew books, but the methods I learned were pretty specific to the one customer who could afford to pay for it. The materials we had at our disposal were very basic and practical. We never worked with leather, as it was far too expensive. (I didn't learn to work with leather until after I moved back.) Much of the work was "perfect binding," which is basically gluing a stack of papers together and mounting them into a case (cover). We made a lot of "clonos", or straight up copying books. This practice was ultra common in Costa Rica.*

The prices we charged were ridiculous to me then and even more unbelievable now. The work we did was for the people. It had to be affordable.

So my training taught me bookbinding was practical, functional and should be affordable. So, lacking the traditional education of other, "real" bookbinders, but still confident that my training and skills had value, I thought "book building" was an appropriate differentiator. It's practical, approachable, and sounds pleasingly proletariat to me. Bookbinding is actually a very specific term for how a book is constructed. I enjoy the process, but it is fairly time-consuming, which makes it quite expensive.**

I build books. I fix books. The physical and functional nature of books is what I love most. I want my books to be used. I don't want to make books that live on shelves. I love repairing Bibles and building journals for the simple reason that they'll get used.

So there it is - Mordecai Book Building. Thanks for reading. What can I do for you? Please get in touch if I can be of service and enjoy the footnotes.

*I had to work through some moral/cognitive dissonance about this when I first arrived. Isn't that illegal? Isn't that obviously violating copyright law? We're basically a ministry... and we're pirating books? How can we justify this?

I don't remember the exact responses to those questions, but my emotional memories tell me it went something like "Oh, you naive, privileged gringo, people here can't afford to pay full price for books and curriculums... this is a way to serve the community and make a few colones. And everyone does it, so no one we're not breaking any social mores..."

Cloning a book was actually an art in itself, albeit a mind-numbingly boring art. You would stand at the copy machine with a little paperweight sitting on the "copy" button so it would keep running. The lid was propped up and you would copy a page, turn the page, copy, turn, copy, turn... and so on until all the pages were copied. I can still hear that old copier chugging... for hours and hours. You'd tape paper to the edges of the machine so you didn't waste toner if you were a split second too late putting the book back down. And you'd have to do it in such a way that the pages lined up at the end. If you were really good, you'd copy them in the perfect order so when you finished, the stack of pages in the tray were in exact order. It is not easy, but my friends Nahum and Jair were masters.

Amazing side note: Jair is the only Jair I've ever met, and Jair is the name of Mordecai's father. True story.

**Michael, my boss at the TIU Bindery, was a stickler on how we used that word. A book that is bound is one that is comprised of signatures, sewn to cords or bands, which are then woven into the cover boards. The leather is then mounted directly to the spine and boards. The book is one whole piece. The process requires many more skills than just building a case. The cost of books bound by hand can be astronomical. I'm not saying they're not worth it, I'm just saying that the customer base for that work is rather small.

***Bookbinders are very serious. A bookbinder would never post this:

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