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Sam Ellenport.

Sam Ellenport.

The craft of book binding

Bookbinder Sam Ellenport keeps a tin of “Old Russia” leather dressing on his antique roll-up desk to remind him of the way things were. For 40 years, he owned Harcourt Bindery in Boston. There, the smells of leathers mingled with that of hot glue heated by an open gas flame. The motors powering equipment made such a commotion that the floor rattled.

Ellenport fell into the craft when he needed a job to tide him over between college positions teaching history. Gradually, he fell in love with it. Five years ago, he sold Harcourt to Acme Bookbinding and ran it as a division of the company until retiring recently. Harcourt remains the largest for-profit hand binder in the United States. When it was founded in 1900, Boston was home to more than 27 book binderies.

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Now Ellenport is stepping up his focus on teaching — he once ran the Harcourt School of Bookbinding — as well as lecturing and writing. He and his roommate at Amherst College who went on to found Oliphant Press recently collaborated on a book, “Reflections of Two Craftsmen: Sam Ellenport & Ron Gordon” (Club of Odd Volumes). In it, Ellenport writes about his efforts to keep the business alive and he fondly recalls binding jobs that came his way, such as the books hand tooled with genuine gold leaf that Harvard used to give select high school seniors.

For details on purchasing Ellenport’s book, e-mail sam@chagfordinc .com

Kat Ran Press

While Ellenport remains committed to the physical book, Cambridge resident Michael Russem is less nostalgic. Having spent the past 18 years as a designer and printer of limited editions, Russem is shifting gears to design illustrated and well-made paperbacks, what he calls “normal or useful books.”

Russem has long felt that there is too much cheerleading and not enough criticism within the world of fine books. In “A Kat Ran Checklist,” an annotated list of the limited editions his Kat Ran Press has designed, printed, and/or published since 1994, he points out which of his books missed the mark and why. “The true ideal of fine printing is to simply make the best books for one’s time in history with the tools of one’s time in history. One could argue that the e-book is the book of our time,” he writes, adding “even I prefer to read prose on an iPhone.”

Boston Book Festival

The future of reading is one of the more than three dozen panel discussions on the schedule for the Boston Book Festival on Saturday. Daniel Handler, who writes under the pen name of Lemony Snicket, and Richard Ford will give the keynote addresses. Attendance topped 25,000 last year so wise festivalgoers will check the schedule at bostonbookfest.org and show up early at the sessions they want to attend. Details at bostonbookfest.org.

Coming out

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 “The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg (Grand Central)

 “The Bone Bed” by Patricia Cornwell (Putnam)

 “Angels at the Table” by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine)

Pick of the week

Anita Silvey, whose “Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac” is being published this month by Roaring Brook, recommends “Chickadee” by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins): “Several years ago Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, began a series of novels that creates a more accurate portrait of the Native Americans living in the same time and place as those in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ books. Erdrich’s latest features a kidnapped Ojibwe boy who uses his intelligence and understanding of the natural world to return to his family. It works well as a standalone volume, ideal for ages 10 to 12.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.

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