In honor of the Day of the Dead, here is a digital facsimile of another NewLights Press classic, 99 Ways to Die.
We’re calling this a digital facsimile, as opposed to a digitally archived version of the book, because it is not composed of scans of the actual printed pages, as most of our digital books are. The real book is a little more than 200 pages (100+ sheets of paper with the versos unprinted) and that thick spine plus a shoddy hand “perfect binding” means that the book is extremely fragile, and does not open anywhere near flat enough to scan. [I wonder if there any copies of this still out in the world, still mostly intact.] Hence the digital “facsimile,” meaning that the book, with all of its wobbling and inconsistency, has been rebuilt on the computer. Perhaps it is effective, perhaps not. But here it is. & in a way, this is the third version of the book.
99 Ways to Die is, unofficially, the first NewLights Press book. The very first version predates the press, predates even the idea of the NewLights Press. Or perhaps the idea of the press emerged with the book. Although the thing itself was terrible, barely a book at all.
I’ve written before, on this blog & elsewhere, about how NewLights was started during/after a zine/bookmaking class my sophomore year of college. The text of 99 Ways to Die is from an assignment in that class, given by the poet John Yau, to write three poems: “10 Things to Do in Baltimore,” “10 Things Not to Do in Baltimore” and a list poem of our choice. My choice, because my roommate and I listened to a lot of metal, was “99 Ways to Die.”
I had so much fun writing the poem (with input from a few friends) that I wanted to try making it into a little book. I bought some Oaktag [yes!] paper for the covers, carved a tiny linoleum block image of the grim reaper and set up and printed the pages at quarter-sheet size to be saddle stapled. I’m not sure how many copies I tried to do, but not a lot. I hand printed the linoleum with the Speedball brand of water-based block printing ink, which, as some of you cringing readers might know, essentially never dries. So the prints came out okay, but quickly disintegrated into clouds of black fingerprints after repeated viewings. (The grim reaper used on the cover reproduced above is a screenprinted version pulled directly from one of those original block prints.) & the binding, oh the binding. One of the first things I learned about bookbinding was that a normal stapler is not long enough to reach the spine of even a quarter-sheet size book. In tandem with that I also learned not to wait until right before class to try to bind. [Current & future students of mine, this is solid advice.] So I just cut all of the pages down the spine and stapled them to the top of the back cover, clipboard style. It was not pretty.
But it worked. & the enthusiasm about that “prototype” version among my peers & friends & professors led me to maybe get more serious about this bookmaking thing. & after that, my life was quickly & wonderfully ruined.
Oh, & in case you’re wondering about the title and the epigraph: