January 1, 1998
Essayist Roger Rosenblatt has some thoughts on a man who makes books.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: No man is an island, but a few people try to come close. Islands have produced some remarkable cultures, after all, like Greece or Britain or Ireland--or Staten Island, the unsung occasionally obstreperous borough of New York City on which Malachi McCormick has built his Stone Street Press. McCormick, born on the Irish island in County Cork, has carried that literary culture to the American island and has set up within this insular world an island within that. In the Stone Street Press, McCormick makes the book he sells. He does his own calligraphy and makes the binding. Some of the books he writes himself, like the story of the 6th century Irish monk St. Coumbkille, and a how-to book "How to Make a Decent Cup of Tea."
In other works he presents collections and translations. From the Stone Street Press one may order old Irish monastic poetry, Irish nature and love poems, and collections of Irish proverbs, English, African, and Yiddish proverbs. McCormick may be an island but his coastline touches the wide world. He is, of course, a weirdo, and oddball, a craftsman who flies so brazenly against the grain of modern times that in his company modern times seem to wither and vanish. He taught himself deliberately until he could make lettering as clear as type. He taught himself about paper and design. Talk about small presses. You don't get much smaller than McCormick. He is what he makes--a limited edition. What makes McCormick especially interesting is that he is both out of the times and very much in them. On the one hand, he is the enemy and the anthesis of the big bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble and the large publishing conglomerates like Random House and Simon & Schuster.
And he struggles against those forces mightily. On the other hand, he is the perfect down-sized company. He will not renege on benefits he has promised himself. He will grant himself a vacation. He cannot be laid off. And he can even give himself a bonus from time to time. If there is money for a bonus, he gives it to McCormick.
MALACHI McCORMICK: I have two trainings. I was trained as a management consultant, if you can believe it, and as a chemist. And now I've made my living from both of those before I got into this. And at that stage I had the option to go back to either of those. And I can tell you that to say I would earn 10 times or 20 times what I earn doing this, doing either of those two things, will give you an indication of the rewards. They're extensive. They're not financial, but I think they're more to do with the soul.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: There must be something else very pleasing in what McCormick does. Alone on his island he has the satisfaction of knowing that he is different, different in a world that is becoming more and more the same. Where everything is moving faster, he goes slow. In an anti-literary age, he creates books; he writes in a near-dead language. He does what he likes, and he does it for the sake of beauty.
MALACHI McCORMICK: I try to sell books. It's very important to me to sell books, and it's a very marginal existence. But I would wish for everybody that they had something to--have an art--desire for money in their lives in the way that I have it. And maybe I'm just consoling myself with that thought because I ride a bicycle; I will probably never own a car in my life, or own a house, or have health insurance. But these are things, and this is a very healthy and wonderful thing to do.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I noted his insularity, but I neglected to mention the insularity of writing, itself. Here is a 9th century Irish poem in one of his books.
(MALACHI McCORMICK READING POEM)
Translation of Poem on Screen:
A wall of trees
a blackbird's melody
(I won't hide it.)
There, above my
little book, with
the bird's trill
cuckoo sings to me
From the green clock
of his tree fort
God's good to me:
stuff under the
I'm Roger Rosenblatt.