Launch Party on April 6th! Exhibition!

IMG_3239We will be launching this edition of The Book of Disquiet on April 6th at the bookartsbookshop on Pitfield Street in London. The event will run from 6-8 in the evening, and the (strong) chances are that the fun will continue in the Prince Arthur at 49 Brunswick Place after that. There will be some delicious Five Points Brewing Company beer.

The event is being run jointly with the bookartsbookshop and the excellent people from the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics  – it’s also a celebration of the Festival of the Invention of ‘Pataphysics.

All are welcome. There may be some of the beermats pictured above given away.

Maybe even more excitingly, for me, this event marks the start of an exhibition of the edition at the bookartsbookshop, which will run for a fortnight and will give anyone who can get to Pitfield Street a chance to have a look at the work. The bookshop itself is (I think) one of London’s great treasures and I am very proud to be associated with them.


Not just paper

If this project is to evoke the feeing of opening a drawer into which someone has plonked the everyday stuff of their life, the sense of this book being written across everyday ephemera, I know I need a few bits and pieces that are not just bits of paper. I need some sections which provide different sizes and textures and so on. That’s an interesting challenge in a project using a little table-top letterpress.

One example of not-paper I’ve used is a pencil: in this, I printed a paragraph, one line at a time, on each of the six sides of a pencil. Bearing in mind (as I learned in the course of this process) that pencils are differently hard on different sides, according to the grain, the real challenge in this one was judging how hard to press. I built a little cradle out of beermats to hold the pencils consistently on the press. Here’s how it turned out:

106: Pencil

Another section which isn’t just a piece of paper was a matchbook. I thought about buying a load of matchbooks and just printing on the inside, but I couldn’t find enough which felt in keeping with the look of the project so I decided to make my own.

First off, I took an old matchbook to pieces and measured it carefully. Then with a combination of ruler, scalpel and guillotine I cut strips strips of card of the appropriate size. Then (after much proofing and experimentation) I printed an matchbooky image onto one side (and the fragment of the book on the other).
“A Sala De Ressaca”, by the way, is Portuguese for “The Hangover Lounge“.

I used an old bone folder to score the bits of card in the appropriate places.
I then took a pile of old matchbooks and used a combination of scalpel and staple removers to fillet out the matches, folding my new covers around the old matches and stapling the whole lot together.
It’s a matchbook without a striking strips, of course, which feels somehow appropriate.


I thought hard about including bus tickets in the project – didn’t it go against travel being only in one’s head? In the end I decided that a string of unused bus tickets represented the absence of actual travel, so that would be OK. Also, a strip of tickets makes a section with a unique shape and texture, and one with a definite sense of the everyday.

Enter a caption

The actual roll I used came from eBay; I wasn’t looking for a particular price or place but I was pleased when I found some with pre-decimal currency (before 1970 I think); I don’t have any connection with the Isle of Man but when this came up I couldn’t help but feel the phrase “isle of man” has something of Bernardo Soares about it.

I wasn’t sure how many tickets were in a roll, and I had got more than halfway through counting them one by one before I realised they are sequentially numbered…


Typesetting this was straightforward enough, but I had to do a fair bit of shifting the lines about before the text looked balanced across a strip of five tickets.

The biggest challenge was to persuade the strips of tickets to lie flat on the press : after half a century of being in a roll, they were disinclined to be anything but curly! Ordinarily I tape a small piece of lead to the press to allow me to place the paper on the press consistently (so the print lines up correctly each time). For this print I did something similar but used leads at both ends which the tickets could tuck under, keeping them flat enough. Then I used a pencil to make dots in the holes in the ticket do I could line the tickets up accurately.


This all made for a more time-consuming print than I expected for a short section but it came out nicely enough.


Inspiration: books in boxes

From time to time, as I tell people about this project, I have a conversation which goes roughly as follows:
ME: I’m printing a book, here are some pictures of what I’m up to
THEM: It seems to be lots of different bits of things not joined together
ME: Yes, they will be in a box
THEM: That’s not really a book, is it?
ME: It’s an unbound book.

Setting aside Pessoa’s penchant for referring to The Book of Disquiet as a book, and the fact that “it” spent a good proportion of the last century in a box, it occurs to me that, save for the existence of a few special books, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that a book could exist unbound in this fashion.
An example I picked up at random in a bookshop in Chicago some years ago, and which I enjoyed enormously, is Salt Creek Anthology by Jason Fisk which uses the form to reflect stories happening in a community, how each person’s story is linked, and unlinked, to that of the people they live with (and near): no one character is the centre of these stories but each story is linked (Fisk presents the novel as unbound pages in a box and also in a series of linked hypertext documents; I’m fixated enough on the physical form of the book to be primarily interested in the former.)

Another I came across when it was published in an English edition a few years ago is “Composition No. 1” by Marc Saporta, a marvellous piece of work.
More famous, in the UK at least, is probably “The Unfortunates”  by B S Johnson, a novel I love completely. In an article about B S Johnson which I turned up when looking for a link to paste in here, Jonathan Coe said:

“…thoughts and memories, it seemed to Johnson, do not arrive in an orderly fashion, sequentially, the way one is obliged to present them in a book. They jostle randomly for precedence in the loose, unstructured consciousness. He felt that there should be a way of making a novel reflect this. And so he decreed that his next novel-which he called “The Unfortunates”-should not be published in the usual way, with consecutive pages stitched together at the spine, to be read one after another. Instead, he divided it into sections, of between one and 16 pages, and insisted that his publishers present these sections loosely, in a small box, so that the reader could shuffle them and read them in any order they wanted: a version, perhaps, of the experiments with chance procedures which John Cage had attempted a few years earlier.”

It seems to me that the same can be said of “The Book of Disquiet”; it’s not just that Pessoa didn’t place the text into a final order, it’s that I rather like the disordered wander around Soares’s ideas and thoughts. What’s more, over the years I have tended to browse “The Book of Disquiet”: rather than read it from cover to cover I dip in. I like the thought of making “dipping in” more literal.

A note on numbering

Looking at the pictures, or the titles of some of the posts on this blog, you’ll see each section has a number. In the edition I’m working from, each section has two numbers: one is edition-specific and numbers from 1 to 259, the other, in parentheses, doesn’t appear to be in any order.


As I understand it, each of the contents of Pessoa’s trunk has been assigned a number by cataloguers and this is the number in brackets. I have chosen to use this number: that’s partly because I thought it a good idea to have a cross-reference to other versions of the book; more selfishly the number gives me a graphical element to experiment with, something to work with to make each section less block-of-text-ish.

I realise that if you’ve “my” Serpent’s Tail edition of the book in hand you can’t use the numbers to look up the relevant section in context: by the time of publication I’ll put a little ready reckoner of the sections on this blog with the Serpent’s Tail numbers attached.

Some sections have dates attached, obviously I’ve retained those.


I am very proud of this section! That’s not just because it took ages – though it did – but because it came out more or less as I imagined it might.

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(Photos above by Michael Jones and below by me.)




As I hope you can tell, the section is made up of five gift tags, one side adds up to section 190, the other is a design (each tag in a different colourways) made from overprinting two sets of border.

These were inspired in part by the beautiful tags made by Hammerpress in Kansas City, Missouri, and in part by the modular Monotype Border Prints by Nomad Press in Gloucestershire. Both printers whose quality I can only dream of.

Why did it take ages? It’s one of the longer sections I’m tackling, so the typesetting itself took some time. Additionally, I did nearly 100 of each of five tags, and each tag went through the press 3 times (two colors on one side, one on the other). That’s 1500 strikes of the press in anyone’s money.

Translation and permission

Sometime in the early-mid nineties, in a long-gone bookshop in the (disquiet-relevant) basement of the Fishergate Shopping Centre, just over the road from Preston railway station, I picked up a copy of the Serpent’s Tail edition of “The Book of Disquiet”. It was, I think, the second Serpent’s Tail printing, with a purplish cover, rather than the handsome Vaughan Oliver designed first edition. I’m not sure, I upgraded to the Vaughan Oliver edition years ago and gave the other one away.
I know there are several translations of “The Book of Disquiet”, and I am in no position to even speculate which is “the best”; a brief flick through each that I’ve seen leaves me thinking that none is bad. What I can say is that I’ve always thought of the Margaret Jull Costa translation as “my” edition.

I should add at this point that I am a great admirer of Margaret Jull Costa’s translation: I read rather a lot of novels translated into English and I think her translations regularly stand out as beautiful writing in their own right.

When I had the idea for this project, which I suppose was in 2012 or 2013, I discussed it with various friends, without any sense of whether it might be possible to be given permission to reproduce the work. It turned out that I knew someone who knew Margaret Jull Costa, and they put me in touch with her; Margaret thought the idea a good one but explained that the rights to her translation remain with the publisher, Serpent’s Tail; she helpfully put me in touch with them.

I am delighted to say that Serpent’s Tail “got” the idea too, and (although there’s really nothing in it for them, and I was asking them to do me a favour) they kindly granted me permission to use a subset of the book. The day I received confirmation that they’d granted me the rights was a very happy day, and I’m extremely grateful to them.