Mark at home reading with his trusty sidekick, Wilbur (named after E.B. White's pig because he snorts when he smells things). The book is Will Eisner: A Dreamer's Life in Comics by Michael Schumacher, a bio of one of the founding fathers of comic books and the person who coined the term "graphic novel."
Every month we'll highlight a reader in the Great Lakes Bay region and learn more about them, their work, and their reading life. We'll also discuss books and share a conversation about something close to their heart.
This month we're fortunate to connect with Mark Brown, Honors Program Director and Associate Professor of English at Delta College. His interest in literature exists outside the classroom and has evolved into a side hustle. Read on to learn more about Mark, his reading life, and his unique creations.
What's your first memory of reading?
My mom read to my older brother and I pretty religiously. Even after all these years, I can still hear her sing-song delivery of Miss Nelson is Missing, The Giant Jam Sandwich, Something Queer is Going On, and Professor Wormbog's Gloomy Kerploppus.
Describe what you do for your 9-to-5 gig?
I'm an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Honors Program at Delta College. I teach Honors sections of English 111 and 112, and I also teach Intro to Film, Studies in Film Genre, and the American Motion Picture. I also do a weekly movie review show called Moviehouse on the campus radio station every Friday morning.
What do you like most about your work?
I love being in a classroom with a bunch of smart, inquisitive students and talking about writing, things we've read, connections they're making, insights they've discovered. It is literally one of my favorite things in the world.
How did you end up making vintage journals/notebooks?
I have been an amateur book artist since college, making chapbooks of poetry for friends, occasionally making a book from scratch as part of a class assignment. I have always been compelled not just by the content of books but by the actual physical object itself. For the last several years, while thrifting with my wife, I had been picking up old hardback books with beautiful covers - not because I wanted to read them, necessarily, but because I loved the vintage covers with foil stamping, embossing, quirky illustrations, etc. I couldn't bear the thought of them just mouldering on a shelf at a Goodwill or being recycled once the library sale discarded them. So I accumulated a fair-size stack of vintage books without really knowing what I would do with them.
Then at the outset of the covid-19 quarantine, as I had more spare time on my hands, it suddenly occurred to me that I could combine my love for books and book-making with this collection of cool covers I'd accidentally gathered. So I started experimenting and eventually found a way I could reclaim the covers from these books and sew in new, clean, blank pages. I loved the idea of having all the history, texture, and patina of a vintage book but being able to fill it with new thoughts, ideas, sketches, lists, etc. So I made 10 or 15 of them and eventually offered them for sale on Facebook just to my group of friends. Those sold out overnight and I had orders for 20 more the next day. That was over a year ago now, and I've kept pretty steadily busy making them for people from all over the country. I operate almost entirely from my Instagram and Facebook accounts, @bookmark_books.
How long does it take you to assemble a notebook?
There are a lot of steps, but start to finish, if I have all of my supplies on hand and no interruptions, I can make a book in about an hour and a half, all told. I will usually spend a day just folding paper so I have all the signatures I need ready to go, and I'll spend a different day just cutting and prepping covers, etc. Then once I have all the components assembled, I'll choose 5-10 covers and spend a week or so sewing 1-2 books a night. It's an ongoing, rolling process that I really enjoy.
What inspires you?
My wife and three fantastic daughters, Andy Goldsworthy's art, book art by Daniel Essig, Matthew Sweet's power pop, Robert Hass's Sun Under Wood https://bookshop.org/books/sun-under-wood/9780880015578 , The Age of Innocence by Martin Scorcese, the landscape of southeast Idaho, springtime, zines and self-publishing, the city of Detroit, Willa Cather's My Antonia, and storytelling.
How would you describe your reading life? How many books do you read in a year? As an English teacher, I'm reading constantly, but it's mostly stuff for work - student papers or looking for new examples of well-written research essays to share in class. I have a stack of books sitting on my nightstand, and at the end of a long day, if I have the good sense to set my phone down, I'll spend time reading before bed. As far as how many books I read in a year, all I can say is, not enough.
What's your favorite book or genre to read around the holidays?
It's not holiday-centric but my favorite genre in general is curiosity-based creative non-fiction. I love anything where an author has an idiosyncratic question about the world and uses research of all kinds to find the answer - like "Who really invented Nancy Drew" in Girl Sleuth by Melanie Rehak or why would someone go to prison for taking old maps out of books in The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey or what would happen if you tried to recreate Che Guevara's motorcycle journey through South America in Chasing Che by Patrick Symmes. I find a lot of joy in specific curiosity and the thrill of finding unexpected answers.
Finding Mark's Vintage Journals