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Amber's Thoughts

Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series



The First Publisher

Gutenberg's Apprentice - Alix Christie

When I first saw the title I wondered how the story could be made interesting, since we all know how it ends—a printed Bible—but the process was full of personal, social, religious and political controversy. Who was to be allowed to control books? The power of the medieval Catholic Church in money and politics was pervasive. The German city of Mainz, where Gutenberg started his printing press, was at odds with its archbishop overlord. One of the many things the church controlled at the time was access to books. The invention of moveable type posed a threat to those in power, and to those for whom writing by hand was a sacred, contemplative art. Peter Schoeffer was one of the latter, before he became Gutenberg’s apprentice.


Prior to reading this book, I’d never heard of Schoeffer. Author Alix Christie found, among other records, extensive interviews with him written by a monk, Trimethius. Schoeffer, it turns out, was as important as his master.


Christie makes every step of the process of printing that first Bible come alive with Schoeffer’s passions. His relationships with his foster father who was Gutenberg's business partner, with Gutenberg himself—an eccentric and difficult character—and with his fellow workers in the printing shop are based on meticulously researched historical fact, enlivened by the author's interpretation. Peter’s courtship of the young painter Anna Pinzler is told beautifully, with one of the most mystical and uplifting love scenes I’ve ever read. If you like to explore a book that immerses you in the mind, heart, life and work of a man of another time and place, this one will absorb you completely. It’s not a book to rush through, any more than Schoeffer could have rushed through his carving of a perfect letter.


Each chapter starts with a large, ornate capital that looks hand-lettered, imaginative and full of flourishes, the lines ever so subtly imperfect. Having studied calligraphy and hand engraving, I appreciated this touch, and the reminder that books as works of art, as physical objects, were changed by the invention of printing.


The only thing I didn’t like was the author’s choice to put the scenes that take place later in Peter’s life— his interviews with Trimethius that are sprinkled throughout the book—in the present tense. This is minor, and it will only bother those readers who share my mental allergy to present tense narrative.


(Note: I acquired an ARC—advance reader’s copy—of this book from Collected Works Bookstore at the Best of Santa Fe celebration in July 2014. Any book lover in Santa Fe who got to the store’s booth in time could get ARCs (and discount coupons for coffee) before they ran out. )