Thoughtful decisions concerned with details marginal or marginalized conspire to affect greatness. (Hairline spacing after em dashes in online editing software — for example.) The creative process around these decisions being equal parts humility and diligence. The humility to try again and again, and the diligence to suffer your folly enough times to find the right solution.
A physical book is difficult. If you haven’t made one, it’s tough to imagine just how difficult it is. Every detail requires deliberation. There are many details. I will spare you an enumeration. But believe me when I say, if you think about them all before you start, you will never start. The rabbit hole is deep. The truth of any craft.
If George Nakashima were standing here (which would be amazing because he is dead), I’m sure he’d be more than happy to discuss ad nauseam the nuanced complexities in shaping a piece of wood just so. We’d say, 'OK OK Mr. Nakashima, got it.’ And he’d say, 'Listen, kids, in order to produce a fine piece of furniture, the spirit of the tree must live on. You give it a second life … You can make an object that lives forever, if used properly.
This piece is about so much more than putting careful thought into the layout of a physical book. The lesson reminds me of this story Steve Jobs used to tell about a design lesson he learned from his father.