Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Wendy Gomoll and Paul Van Kooy, the publishers of Paul + Wendy Projects, a small company that publishes artist books and other multiples. Wendy is also currently an archival technician for the AGO, and in the last few months of an intensive graduate program at the University of Toronto. Their main shelf is in the bright living and dining room of their downtown Toronto apartment, though there are books and artworks stacked neatly, if a little precariously, throughout their home.
WENDY: The shelf is kind of Paul’s baby.
PAUL: Yeah, so it’s kind of mostly art books at the bottom, literature at the top, with a kind of mushy middle. The organization of the shelf is mostly just finding space at this point.
WENDY: It’s three rows deep in some of those shelves.
PAUL: With the paperbacks, yes, because they’re smaller—they’re softcover and paper. Maybe not as aesthetically pleasing, some of them. I don’t know. We’re so starved for storage, I guess so many of them get crammed in the back. It’s just all our paperbacks. There’s like a bunch of Penguin books I’ve collected. Do you feel like you’re being ripped off, like you’re not seeing our true taste?
WENDY: Do you feel like the dirty secrets are back there?
PAUL: Y’know, there’s probably nothing like, too dirty. We’ve probably edited that stuff mostly out.
WENDY: A lot of those were things I read as a teenager, or in my early 20s. During my university years I read War and Peace over my Christmas break. I was a bigger reader then. Right now, my bedside table—the books are pretty straight forward. I’m reading that new Michael Chabon. Lately I mostly just read stuff you would probably read about in the New York Times.
PAUL: All the good stuff is in the back, there. That’s all of the heady books. Classics, and more like, paperbacks with nice covers. John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, I don’t know. All the books you read when you’re a young person. Not that the facing books are more adult—it’s mostly just that they’re hardcover.
WENDY: I think it’s just the way they fit on the shelves. There’s probably a lot of things facing out that I thought was terrible.
PAUL: It’s true!
WENDY: There are a lot of books there that I don’t like at all. I don’t know why I don’t get rid of them. I don’t get rid of books very often.
PAUL: Usually this coffee table is all books, and on top of the flat files.
WENDY: There’s a lot more artist books and things like that in there. Some catalogs.
PAUL: You don’t need to take pictures in there! That’s, like, the office, I mean, the desk… and right now we’re—between that pink insulation is the latest print that we’re doing. But they’re digital prints and they came all rolled up. So we’re pressing them out, trying to flatten. That’s Wendy’s work area, her school area.
WENDY: [Laughs] It’s never been my work area! We mostly keep the books we’ve worked on, and other prints and artwork in the flat files. I love a system. If I put a book back on the shelf at the library I love to line up the spines, which I realize is a waste of time but I can’t help myself. I’m also one of those people who straightens things at store counters, if they have little flyers or things.
PAUL: Let me grab you one of our books to look at. If I show you too much it will be an avalanche. This one is called Pop Quiz, and it’s by our friend David Dyment. He went through his record collection and picked out different questions from songs in his collection, and then he writes a unique question at the end of each book. And this one is from our series called Clock by Michael Dumontier and Micah Lexier. Each one has a different colour combination of foil stamping, and it’s just different images that Michael made with string to look like a clock.
WENDY: We started making books and prints in 2008. I’m not sure that there are any other companies quite as small as ours, doing similar sorts of things. Though, David Dyment and his wife have a publishing company as well. We’ve done more books than I thought we had, now that we’re talking about it. Or, book-like objects.
PAUL: We have another Micah Lexier book, This is Me Writing. Lemme show you that. This is our first book that we made with Micah. It’s kind of how we first met him, we’d met at a few art things, and we’d said that we’d like to do something with him. And then one Sunday Wendy and I went over to his place, and we just kind of talked and hung out and stuff. He said he’d had a couple of ideas for projects, and one of them was doing this book where all he does is write on each page a different way, like, “here’s me writing with a brand new pen”, “here’s me writing very fast”, “here’s me writing very carefully”, just page after page of him writing in different ways…
WENDY: Basically by the time we’d gotten back, taken the streetcar back home, he’d called and said “Okay, I’m done. I’ve finished it.” We were like, wow!
PAUL: So, in the art we like to collect and publish, one of the things is—I like art that references books, or has a book element to it. So that Sylvia Plath Ariel is actually a painting by Roula Partheniou. It’s a series where she found books that were the exact size as these canvases she has–
WENDY: Should we take the plastic off?
PAUL: Sure, we could take the plastic off. I’m like an old Lady where I’ve got everything—well, stuff that’s close to the table is kind of in a splash zone, like at Marine Land. Foodstuffs end up on things. But yeah, so Roula did this series where she’d find books covers that were interesting or that fit certain themes. We have a couple of her books. We saw a real first edition of Ariel at Shakespeare and Company while we were in Paris, but we couldn’t afford it.
WENDY: The tactility of Roula’s books is a bit of a problem, though. One of the art fairs Paul’d worked at, you had them, like, stacked on a table, and people just wanna pick them up.
PAUL: Then they realize that they’re art and get all scared, they just wanna drop them like they’re a hot potato or something, yeah. Eeep! Art!
PAUL: One of the things I like to collect are vintage books, just for the covers. Those R.D. Laing ones, I’ve got a bunch of those. And then there’s that Andy Warhol cover, and Alvin Lustig, they’re just such great pieces of artwork on their own. Or anything from New Directions—those New Directions Books have just such amazing covers on them. And kid’s books, I like a lot of kid’s books from the ‘60s and ‘70s…A lot of the art work we like is really text driven, or text is often a big part of it. So, I don’t know, it seems like it’s not a big shift from liking books to artwork. Some of our books—we have this book series by Kay Rosen, it’s called List, where she takes french words and then the words in French are also words in English, and she takes the French words and puts them into English…
WENDY: You get it when you look at it.
PAUL: Look, I just wanna point out that there’s no shame in any of those books in the back. Like, in my ideal house I’d have a full room that would be a library. It’s about straight space. We have to really edit things, living in such a small space. We have a lot of junk. The problem is we’ve got the flat files for art, cds, records, there’s just too much stuff, it takes up too much space. I’m kind of bad at getting rid of things.
WENDY: Yeah, you really are. We did a cull once, when we were painting the shelf. We had to take everything off of there, so basically the entire contents of our apartment. There were books piled up under the couch and in all the corners.
PAUL: I liked that.
WENDY: There wasn’t room to walk.
PAUL: I kind of really like clutter. But then I also like it very clean, too. So I have that inner battle.