(By Christina Anne Taylor of Middle Island Press)
Some people still look disparagingly upon chapbooks despite their widespread acceptance today. Chapbooks are tainted with a history of having emerged from the dregs beneath literary propriety. They have delivered (among all else) subversive literature of a persuasive nature for centuries, and they are a convenient medium for people to get their opinions into the hands of the public without being censored by the common dogmatic watchdogs of publishing. The very word chapbook has been kicked down, stepped on, and dragged through the mud. Despite this underground sort of reputation, chapbooks have risen to a fine craft and are gaining respectability.
Credit for this shift in opinion goes to things such as heightened awareness of the gifts to society that chapbooks have become. Despite the dingy history, it is increasingly known that very notable literary figures embraced the chapbook as a means to deliver their words to the masses: William Shakespeare, James Joyce, and T.S. Eliot, to name a few.
Furthermore, the clean precision of print technology has led to professional-looking little books that can rival with big-name publishers in quality. Chapbook publishers and those who self-publish can usually afford several sheets of paper as opposed to folding and cutting a single sheet for maximum pages per sheet (as was standard before extravagance became the norm, and they certainly would have resembled a kindergarten project at times). Printed chapbooks also look far more professional (in the sense of published words for marketing) than does penmanship on folded sheets of paper, so it is without guilt that writers can charge book prices for their little literary gems.
There is also a more artful presentation gaining momentum that is raising the bar of chapbooks. For a fortunate artistic few with a lot of time on hand, chapbooks are presented as a fine craft akin to advanced scrap-booking, complete with fabric, ribbons and lace, and multi-dimensional covers that command prominent display (and higher price tags).
As chapbook publishers come into contact with improving standards of other publishers, quality should continue to escalate until such a time that there should be no disparity between a European-made chapbook and an American-made chapbook. Having said that, let chapbooks bloom in full color, let them be trimmed to the golden ratio, and let the rest be considered little more than stapled literature.