Pulled from the Pages: Overtime by Karl Kessler and Sunshine Chen

There has always been interest in vintage and antique products, but lately, I think there has also been the sense that we ought to show appreciation of bygone ways of living. Perhaps in reaction to the frenetic pace of modern life, a small subset of society has learned to value more manual, artisanal methods of construction—literal manufacturing—because of the quality and uniqueness of the resulting product. But the majority of us live and consume in a thoroughly modern way, leaving the traditional artisans and labourers to ply their “vanishing trades” in increasingly stagnating markets.

Overtime by Karl Kessler and Sunshine Chen provides a unique and compelling look into the lives and experiences of some of the people whose trades are gradually approaching extinction. The book reproduces revealing portraits alongside candid interviews with sign painters, shoemakers, tailors and farmers, with bowling club participants, rural churchgoers and women’s institute members. These are the people whose jobs are being eradicated by automation, and whose cultural practices are being subsumed by video streaming and smartphones. But they each have expertise to pass along, and stories to tell.

Overtime tells those stories.

In light of the upcoming book launch for Overtime (which will occur on Thursday, November 8 at 7:00 p.m. at Button Factory Arts in Waterloo) we wanted to share a couple of the more book-related excerpts to whet your appetite.


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Kristen Hahn, Bookstore Owner

Kristen Hahn

The most gratifying thing about what I do is when I match up the right book with the right person at the right time. It almost seems a little uncanny when someone doesn’t know what they’re looking for but you know what they need and that is an excellent moment; it’s exciting, it charges me up and when they come back and tell me how much the book affected them, then it really feels like what I do is worthwhile …

Kristen explains, ‘Everything that I have in here is something I’ve chosen. I am the only filter here; it’s not some corporate head office, it’s not some sales team. You could go to a downtown in Winnipeg or Toronto or Halifax and see the exact same stores. It’s the same thing over and over and over again. But I’m choosing books based on what my clientele reads. I know every single customer who comes in here and I know what they’re reading and I know what they’re interested in. I’ve watched their kids grow up; I sold them their first picture books and now they’re teenagers….

‘As far as how I stock the store, I’m aided by my publishing representatives—that itself is a dying trade. It happens twice a year that we’ll sit down and do the orders. Like my relationship with my customers, my rep’s relationship with me is similar: she knows what I stock. That’s the difference of an independent bookstore. I look to the ones who are still strong; I think their undaunted enthusiasm is what keeps them going….

‘I genuinely love what I do. I’m just really sad that it’s becoming so difficult to do it, because I think that my role in this community, and culturally, is important. And it’s not just me, it’s all independent booksellers. We’re finding it harder and harder and that’s a shame. We’re going to lose something crucial and we won’t know how crucial it is until it’s gone.’


Patrick Feaver, Bookbinder

Patrick Feaver

From birth, to marriage, to death—all in one book!

Many of the oversized, leather-bound family Bibles that Patrick Feaver rebinds and restores contain neatly handwritten pages recording a family’s vital statistics over multiple generations. ‘I find it fascinating. I look at the history: so-and-so got married, so-and-so had two kids, so-and-so died and it’s all in that book. It’s amazing.’

Lehmann Bookbinding is a family business in its fourth generation. Pat started there in 1961, learning the centuries-old trade on the job, from another bookbinder. ‘I don’t know a lot of the terms,’ he says, ‘I just know how to do it. And that’s all that counts as far as I’m concerned.’ Few other commercial binderies still offer Pat’s kind of handwork in addition to their high-volume, production-line binding services. The small tools of an earlier era crowd his workbench.

When Pat rebinds a book, he saves and restores as much of the original as possible. He can repair and re-sew the pages, rebuild the spine, replace the endpapers, or make a new cover. ‘Anything that doesn’t work, I’ll fix it.’ He also binds and covers printed material for libraries, schools and religious institutions, embossing text on the covers and spines using gold foil, metal type and vintage equipment.

Pat has spent his entire career at Lehmann and still comes in to do binding by hand, he says, ‘because no one else knows how to do it.’ Meanwhile, after decades of steady work, fewer custom binding jobs have been coming his way. But to ensure that future customers have a place to bring their cherished books, he has been passing on his skills to a younger co-worker, because, he says, ‘I don’t think I’ll be doing it too much longer.’


PortraitI hope you enjoyed this peek inside Overtime. If you’d like to learn more, follow this link for information about the book and how to make your purchase.


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.