Assistant to the Vocations Director and Production Editor for New Priory Press
One September morning on my bus commute, I overheard two other CTA riders discussing books versus e-readers. Nosily, I listened in on their conversation from behind the cover of the paperback book I was reading.
The passenger nearest the window, a middle-aged man, told his (presumably) colleague, a thirty-something female, about purchasing the Kindle for his daughter when it first came out for $400. “It was so exciting to have all your books in one place,” he said. He went on to explain that he later bought his own e-reader once their popularity increased and their prices decreased. In response, his colleague said something that I’ve been contemplating for quite a while:
“I just can’t get over the physicality of the book.”
Her words floored me. Having just gone to the Association of Catholic Publishers’ Annual Membership Meeting, I fretted over the idea of shifting more exclusively to e-books, something that we don’t produce a lot of here at New Priory Press.
Several days later, a New York Times article came out declaring that print books have far from gone by the wayside; author Alexandra Alter notes that “E-book subscription services, modeled on companies like Netflix and Pandora, have struggled to convert book lovers into digital binge readers, and some have shut down.”
While this does not conclusively silence the issue of e-books, it certainly reaffirmed the ongoing mission of New Priory Press, which was resurrected in 2013 as the successor to the former “Priory Press,” to provide readers with a purely Dominican textual experience. As our Dominican brothers are true to their calling, so is New Priory Press to the Dominican charism.
But how exactly does the production of physical books extend the Dominican mission? Fr. Andy McAlpin, O.P., Promoter of Vocations and Director of New Priory Press, simply stated: “It’s Dominican because we live in the natural world. We ask questions, like ‘what is a thing for?’” Fr. Andy described the act, not only of producing books, but of collecting and reading them as “formative and committed.”
His point speaks to Ms. Alter’s in that books fill a shelf, they form a space, whereas e-books are hidden away on users’ personal devices, waiting to be addressed like the proverbial elephant in the room. Likewise, physical books seem to form discussion.
I think about how much less colorful my two-person book club (“Friar and Friend”) meetings with Br. Paul Byrd, O.P. would be if we both were staring into black and white screens, scrolling to digitally-highlighted passages in order to make our next points. My morning commutes would also be much quieter and less engaging; on a daily basis, I observe people on the bus ignoring each other as they read on their phones, tablets, or e-readers. When I’m holding a paperback, other CTA riders don’t hesitate to ask me what I’m reading and what the book is like. You can’t elicit that sort of reaction by staring at a screen.
I experience a silent joy when visitors to the Province Center in Chicago see our table decorated with New Priory Press books and pick them up, admiring their covers and flipping through their pages. “Where can I get a copy of this?” they often ask, and I point them to our website: www.newpriorypress.com. As Fr. Andy put it: “There’s an art to the book; it’s something to behold.”
From an editing and design perspective, these words ring true. Fr. Al Judy, O.P., our Pre-Press Editor, spends countless, and often thankless, hours removing unnecessary commas and ellipses, smoothing out awkward phrases, and providing a standardized layout for our books. As an editor, he ensures that the “art to the book” is manifest and continues the Dominican tradition of bibliophilia, the love of books.
The goals for the future of New Priory Press are clear: reach out to Dominican authors, have them write quality pieces true to the Order’s charism, and extend Dominican outreach through our readership. And we aren’t shying away from the e-book at all; many of our books have an e-book counterpart available on our website. But, in true Dominican form, we just can’t get over the physicality of the book.