A Letter from Dana Gioia

May 19, 2015

Your book arrived on Saturday. When I opened the box and held the thick wrapped volume in my hand, my heart sank. I assumed that you had written one of those endless, overstuffed autobiographies full of unnecessary details and digressions. But as soon as I unwrapped the book, I knew I had been mistaken. It was beautiful. As I opened and paged though it, I was impressed by the perfection of each element. Reading, of course, is another matter. I made myself a mug of coffee and started to read. I've been reading it ever since, and I'm now almost at the end.

The book is sui generis--printing, sex, travelogue, and recipes--but it is compulsively readable. More important, it has the feel of a real life led from start to finish. How few memoirs give one that feeling. Your candor is often shocking. (I hope some of the people you write about are dead for everyone's sake.) You never doubt your own importance or achievement, but you lack the self-preening vanity that characterizes most artist memoirs. You are quite merciless about yourself at many points, but you also never display any false modesty. Both of those things are refreshing, and they add to the verisimilitude one feels throughout the long story. The book is also beautiful written throughout. Your prose is clear, concise, and evocative. One gets a real sense of the people and places in the volume.

No printer has ever written a better book. Certainly no printer has ever written a more personal story of what it takes to bring one's life out of the muck and mire of daily existence (and there is a great deal of mucky mire in your story) and to create works of real distinction. It also chronicles how lonely that quest is and how difficult it is to find companions for the journey.

Congratulations on your odd and compelling capolavoro. It is good to see it done and done so well.


Dana [Gioia]

Comments & Reviews

We would like to share with you comments from a reader, as well as a few published reviews of the book.

Please note that their comments are copyrighted and cannot be quoted without written permission from the writer.

A Review from the Seattle Gay News

Reviews from Amazon.com

August 1, 2015

A Rich Book. Exquisite. A Life!

by Gregory C Richter

In his recent memoir, Fantasies & Hard Knocks, Richard-Gabriel Rummonds recounts his life as a handpress printer carrying on and perfecting the fine artisanal traditions of the 19th century. A citizen of the world, he spent time in California, New York, Alabama, Japan, South America, and Italy, experiencing the joys and sorrows and passions of life. The book can be read on many levels: it is a deeply personal book detailing relationships of many types, with the famous and the not so famous, but there are also not-too-technical technical details, and exquisite reproductions

from the fine books Rummonds produced throughout his professional life. His years in Italy form an important focus of the book; the vibrant writing style convincingly conveys the sights and sounds, the people, and even the cuisine. The book can be read from cover to cover, but each chapter can also be read independently, so random explorations of the book become an adventure. The black and white photographs are stunning, including those of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino, and many others. The book is nicely filled with random humor; once, while dining in a restaurant, Rummonds overhears a young woman confidently translating the menu for her English speaking friends, and telling them they can have “braised languages.” (Surely lingua has only one translation!) This is a rich book that can be read by various types of readers with various types of interests. Bravissimo!

August 2, 2015

An Artistic Life without Compromise

by John D Wagner

I first met and worked with Gabriel Rummonds in the 1980s in Alabama, where he introduced me to the trade of designing, printing, and binding fine books. I was hooked after working just a few hours with him, and we have remained friends for the intervening years. Two years ago, I worked with Gabriel in the NY Public Library, where his papers are stored, to fact check many of the items in this book, Fantasies & Hard Knocks. (The archive is fascinating, by the way, with many letters and artifacts from the likes of Cheever, Borges, Faulkner, and many others.) So, you can only imagine how pleased I was to get this book and to read it. It is nothing short of an extraordinary chronicle of an equally extraordinary artist, designer, and man who has lived his artistic vision, not only in the books he designed (and what works of art they are!) but in his human relationships with many of the leading artistic minds of the late 20th century. With Fantasies & Hard Knocks, Gabriel Rummonds’s vibrant and determined personality and uncompromising artistic vision shine through like beams of sunlight conveying light to earth. I would estimate that Gabriel’s artistic vision can be readily characterized as adamant, stalwart, even stubborn, as he found the "ways and means" to design and produce his highly revered books that today trade for upwards of $25,000 each among the world's finest book collectors. His determination to render his fine art is characterized by his unwillingness to compromise on his vision for any aspect of any of his books, and the final works, the books themselves – you can see them here in their full-color glory – are stunning in their embodiment of graphic beauty, to say nothing of how they present the words of some of the greatest writers on earth. Moreover, there is not a dull moment in this book, as Gabriel is admirably candid about his life as a gay man, and these pages allow you to peruse some of his extraordinary love life on many continents.  In short, the book is a highly entertaining record, and when reading it, you'll enjoy the observations and life of the greatest handpress printer in the world.

August 7, 2015

The Social Life of a Famous Fine Press Printer

by James T. Jones

Those who have read Gabriel Rummonds’s previous books, Printing on the Iron Handpress (Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 1998) and Nineteenth-Century Printing Practices and the Iron Handpress (Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2004), may consider his memoir to be the third volume of a trilogy. True, unlike the previous volumes, Fantasies & Hard Knocks is not a technical book about printing, though it does contain enough description of the book-making process to explain the often tortuous difficulty of Rummonds’s endeavor. For those who are not familiar with his Plain Wrapper Press, suffice it to say that while living in Verona, Italy, in the 1970s he printed some of the most sumptuous fine press books of the twentieth century, combining writing by some of the world’s greatest writers with some of the world’s best contemporary artists. Unlike his older contemporary in Verona, Giovanni Mardersteig, Rummonds preferred to work almost exclusively with living writers and artists. And Fantasies & Hard Knocks gives the reader a close-up view of the complex relationships involved in the activity of fine press printing.

While the length of the book is an imposing 813 pages, each of its individual chapters deals with only a single project, so that it's possible to dip into the text at any point and enjoy a half-hour of reading. Further, Fantasies & Hard Knocks is lavishly illustrated with personal and archival photographs, as well as reproductions of parts of Rummonds’s most widely acclaimed works, such as Siete Poemas Sajones/Seven Saxon Poems by Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most spectacular books ever produced. Beyond that, Rummonds paints a vivid picture of the gay lifestyle in California, New York City, and Europe before AIDS, and his social life easily equaled his artistic life in complexity and drama. To put the icing on the cake (pun intended), each chapter ends with a recipe somehow connected to the topic under discussion. It so happens that Gabriel Rummonds is an artist in the kitchen as well as at the iron handpress.