Not Good, Not Good!

I don’t do this usually, but I did send it back. Don’t judge a book by its cover!

This book is a way of just printing money. Someone interested in Shoji screen panels for dividers, doors and window lites might buy it in the hope of being inspired but the reality is the most unimaginative presentation of a fine craft and art. Words would have made a difference, as would some additional drawings depicting the corner joints and the union of kumiko in different points of contact. Instead, it left me feeling that I had just bitten into a rotten apple — cheated of the expected delights of knowing just little more about a cultural craft. Rubbish, really.

When I opened the pages and flipped through them I thought it was one of those low-grade children’s colouring books you used to get for the kids when you went on holiday, to occupy them on wet days and car journeys. Not that I was looking for colour or even texture, just a nice presentation and a resource of information that might be helpful for anyone looking to make a Shoji. For £22 I did expect much more. The cost of printing and publishing would be under a pound or two max. No, not a single idea about proportion or measurement, stock section size or profile anywhere, not a single word outside of the intro page and even then just three very short and uninformative paragraphs. I thought it to be insulting at best and then too the result of lazy publishing so I thought I should perhaps mention it here to prevent disappointment for others elsewhere in the globe.

So this is my review.

56 thoughts on “Not Good, Not Good!”

  1. What a shame!

    I did enjoy “Making Shoji” by Toshio Odate, maybe you want to give it a try. Looking forward to your take on the shoji screen!


  2. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

    “So this is my review.”

    ’nuff said. That one made me laugh! 😀 You have a way with words wonderfully proportional to your work. Elegant, yet simple. Just the right amount of embellishment. I really like that about you, Mr. Sellers.
    Same thing with music these days. Mr. Clapton formulated my thoughs on something I could not quite put my finger on; why I generally do not like most modern music (I suspect it is an age thing as well):
    I don’t get why they sing so many notes as they do.
    Simple lyrics with an amount of embellishments one normally associate with Château de Chambord..

    1. Steven Lang Columbus Michigan

      Yes, I agree with Paul and you that there is a lot of junk out there being published.
      I also cannot stand today’s music. So much I dont even bother with it any more. I go into stores, and they have the music up so high and it is crap and you cant think! The only store I like is Target, no music in store policy. Some towns have sidewalk music pumping with that crap music. What is going on!
      Just because you write, it doesnt mean it is publishable!

  3. I have seen similar done with stained glass ‘patterns’, put together by someone who would realise that some were impossible if they had ever made glass panels.

  4. Very disappointing to come across Material like this ,Ones initial enthusiasm quickly transfers to utter frustration.
    I found Desmond King book (shoji and Kumiko design )very informative and well illustrated.

  5. Hetzal Hartley

    I love how you can just get to the point. No baloney. I’ve suffered the same fate on a couple of books I got on line. Good reason to keep your local bookstore open. Nothing beats actually flipping through a book to see what you get. Thanks Paul.

  6. Antonio Bettencourt

    Very interesting! I detect a need waiting to be filled, a good book on Shoji and Kumiko. If the rest of my year weren’t already filled up with projects I desperately need to finish …
    What a great excuse for a trip to Japan! I would also invite 5 or 6 western located top craftspeople who are already making shoji to contribute a few photos and a page of text with their thoughts.
    Lots of color photos of course. Both antique and new examples.
    Perhaps copies of pages from antique Japanese books. They’ve often got quite beautiful wood cut prints.
    A section showing the most common joints … though I wouldn’t aim to make it a detailed “how to” treatise. That deserves its own book.
    A glossary of course.

  7. Gary Roberts

    Mr. Sellers: Since 2006 I have published Toolemera Press reprints of period books on early crafts, trades and industries. All are produced by me, from originals in my collection. As you are displeased with this reprint of an original c1930 Japanese formal architectural proposal of Shoji for a planned commercial building, I offer to you a full refund. Please contact me through my site, of which I am confident you are cognizant or through the email noted in this response.

    Gary Roberts

    1. Mr. Roberts,
      It is not necessary to tout the exceptional selling points of merchandise when responding to a customer’s less than glowing review. Your viewpoint of the collection is personal, and therefore subjective. The book simply didn’t meet the needs, nor the expectations of the purchaser.

      Perhaps, going forward, a bit more detail in the description would be helpful to your prospective customers.

  8. Christopher Johnston

    Thanks for saving a lot of people money . I have noticed nowadays there is a LOT ,and I mean LOT,of publishing done on books that have lond since gone out of print . It is a way of making some quick bucks for all involved with hardly ANY repercussions . I think it is a sign of the times . I am wondering how MANY people You Tube actually employs and by that I mean not only in their offices but in contributors . If you go online and look up shooting boards ,look how many are all saying the same thing . i exclude you from that Paul as your version had the mitre joint covered . NONE of the others do hardly.

  9. William Nenna

    Often times books like this come about because some genius comes up with an idea for a subject and hands it off to an “experienced” writer of no particular expertise. So they go about compiling what they can find with no particular purpose in mind and spend an equal amount of time designing a cover! The bargain book bins are often full of this sort of trash!

  10. natxo sainz de aja

    Hello Paul.
    To know about shoji panels and kumiko I recomend you the Desmond king´s books, specialy the nº 2, the first one have too much about japanese tools, in the second one you can found designs with measures and all the details
    Shoji and Kumiko Design: Book 2 Beyond the Basics

  11. Jeff Considine

    If details and substance regarding shoji construction, materials and techniques are what you seek, I would recommend an excellent book, actually a series of books, by Desmond King from Australia. (KSK Designs) He is traditionally trained, writes extremely well and the books are well illustrated and photographed. If I can produce a functional piece from this book, surely anyone can.

  12. Paul, Try Des King’s website for a start, Des learned the craft in Japan and his books are very helpful to newbies in the craft like me.

    I, like you, have been frustrated with books saying they will teach you how to do something that I’m not always sure the author has ever done themselves. The computer has made it too easy for an unscrupulous person to publish junk to make a bit of money from someone they duped.

    Good luck going forward in your Shoji adventure,
    BigD in Texas

    1. Thanks, but I generally don’t have time to read specialist books or actually books on woodworking at all and I’m not looking for a specialist book to read as a how-to as I am simply making a video on how to make a basic Shoji screen using non-specialist tools but the most standard and ordinary western hand tools. One of the good things about the book I sent back was that it had no words to waste my time on so I was grateful for that at least.

  13. I nearly bought this book;
    “Keeping the Cutting Edge: Setting and Sharpening Hand and Power Saws” by Harold H. Payson.
    I was attracted by the cover and thought why not? I could always learn more. I’m glad I read the reviews. Turns out the author barely mentions hand saws at all! Nice cover though.

    It’s the same in many fields of life. My expensive (£55) book “Learning to land your aeroplane” could be boiled down to a single paragraph, where the author says; “You can’t really learn this from a book”.

  14. Reading this post reminds me of the publisher ‘TAB books’…. Don’t recall ever seeing one single book by them that I considered worthwhile. Every time I opened one of their books, regardless of topic, it was an utter disappointment. Not sure how that company managed to pull it off and whether they’re still in business.

  15. Gary Roberts is a stand-up guy providing a useful service in preserving volumes upon volumes of woodworking history and knowledge.
    I fully understand that this book was a disappointment to this particular purchaser/reader, but by no means should the man or his operation suffer wholesale impugnment.

    I have no personal stake or affiliation with Mr. Roberts on any level, but know of him and his work as a long-time member or the world-wide woodworking community.

    1. I certainly don’t see vilifying going on at all. Just plainly countering the impression that this book is much more than a children’s colouring book at best. The cost of print in such a case is pennies not pounds. £22 pounds would be a lot to pay for almost no information. I could see it selling as some kind of pattern book for say £5-6 plus shipping, that’s all. That said, more power to you if you can get people like me to part with the cash. Like printing your own money. Often these reprint guys searching out old books to reprint is just that. I read another reprinted book by an anonymous English author that at least had some value but was truly outdated. We learn more from dismantling an original than reading a book but there is often some hidden detail that’s useful to find in such a book. Also, this second book, it is nicely bound with its cloth-covered, longlasting outer and smith-sewn pages. That is the way to preserve a history volume. In the Shoji book, there was no such long-lasting product, just what we call perfect binding, which is far from perfect and ultimately relies on glued edges alone which you might resort to if there is nothing of quality information or detail to protect I suppose. I have no problem with publishers using PB as long as the price reflects it though. Actually, aloof the Shoji books I have seen over the years have gone for cheap production publications. No one of them has had the courage of their convictions about the quality of what they project. Just mostly about making a quick buck.

      1. Gary Roberts

        Mr. Sellers

        Thank you for your kind review. I value all reviews and will be sure to both keep yours on file and to feature it, as needed, in future marketing.

        Gary Roberts
        Independent Publisher
        Toolemera Press

        1. Paul Sellers

          I don’t think it was a kind review, Gary, just an honest one and what needed someone to say, that’s all.

          1. Gary Roberts

            Sarcasm is in the eyes of the beholder. Thank you for your response.
            Gary Roberts

  16. Just because you lost a few dollars and under the disguise of doing a public service, this was a petty review. There were several options to deal with your disappointment and the way you chose to do it is one that seems primary to let out your own frustration. It was unnecessary harmful towards the publisher without having sought a direct communication first.

    1. Paul Sellers

      I will not lose a penny in the deal, but I did waste my valuable time, effort and suffer disappointment. Because no one left a review on it for others to consider, meant that sales would continue until someone did. I simply gave an honest and unbiased review of an inadequate product. And I took steps for redress via Amazon to a satisfactory conclusion because that further expresses my disappointment. You say, “under the disguise of doing a public service,” How on earth do you know what was in my mind. £22 is $28 and not just a “lost few dollars” at all. This is indeed a poor and might I suggest to you a disingenous product.

      1. Gary Roberts

        Mr. Sellers: in fact, this title lists at $22 USD and is presently discounted to $17.99 USD on Amazon as a result of a continuing uptick in sales. I always appreciate free marketing.

    2. Dear Harun,

      I have benefited mostly from Paul’s reviews. They are honest reviews, not biased, not sponsored and above all professional. On one hand think about the Spear & Jackson saws, highly recommended by Paul (which I bought); on the other hand think about the Spear & Jackson smoothing plane, which Paul doesn’t recommend at all. I believe the picture is clear! To guys like me, new in woodworking, on a budget and without any apprenticeship, these reviews are priceless!

    3. Gary Roberts

      Thank you, Harun. Rest assured that Toolemera Press will continue to thrive. Following Mr.Sellers review, sales on this title increased without my having to spend a cent on marketing. I am much obliged to Mr. Sellers.

  17. I understand Paul’s frustration. I recently have fallen victim to this. I saw a high school textbook from the 1940s about wood tuning on YouTube and they showed how the book had schematics, drawings, and diagrams of different turnings. I was interested in seeing the actual dimensions listed for things like chisel handles and such, to see what they specs out in the ’40s. I went online and ordered the book- this time it came in paperback which I didn’t care because I was just interested in the schematics and diagrams.
    When it arrived…… someone had just retyped it (using a poor typewriter) on 8.5×11 paper, not like a real paperback. They totally omitted all the schematics, drawings, and diagrams. The $20 I was charged was ridiculous for was sent out. I felt this was a scam.

  18. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the book in question, I regret to say that this episode, for me, is characterised by an ungracious, ill-mannered dismissal of another person’s work.

    1. Paul Sellers

      I am not altogether sure what you are saying. Tell me this, had I decided to contact the publisher, would he then have stopped selling the book he had little to do with except copy the work of another from elsewhere? I think speaking plainly and forthrightly about such an inadequate product saves us all from being misled. I would much prefer that than the alternative which is to pretend everything is, well, just OK.

      1. @Paul Sellers

        I have no interest in either the book in question or Japanese techniques.

        I said, plainly, that the tone of the review, a criticism such as the one you wrote of one artisan’s work by another, was ill-mannered and ungracious – which it is. No more than that.

        If, in your reply to that comment by me, you are now suggesting, furthermore, that the work was copied from elsewhere, you are treading an entirely different path – and I have no wish to follow you there.

        1. Gary Roberts

          The creation of Toolemera Press in 2006 was inspired by the work of Astragal Press, Linden Publishing, Praeger Press, EAIA, MWTCA and TATHES in returning to print early books of interest to the woodworking community. Facsimile reprints are produced by high resolution scanning of original books. Some people do choose to retype a book. Preservationists such as I prefer to present a book as near to the original as possible.

          Again, I appreciate all feedback.

        2. Terrence OBrien

          Are thee special rules for reviewing an artisan’s work? Or for artisans who review? What are they?

      2. Gary Roberts

        Mr.Sellers: had you contacted me, I would have offered a full refund in your currency and engaged in a discussion either by phone, video or email regarding your concerns. I encourage customers to get in touch with me when problems or concerns arise.

        I remain,
        Gary Roberts
        Publisher : Toolemera Press

  19. I work as a carpenter and have lots of books on carpentry and joinery. In one of my older books, there’s a mistake on a cut roof (a cut roof is a roof where the rafters and other parts are hand sawn). In a later book I bought, the same picture had been badly photocopied, and inserted in the book duplicating the mistake!

  20. Screens are an interesting idea. I’ve always admired simplistic and flexible dwellings, like a house in Australia in times past would often have the verandahs enclosed and the kids sleeping there (centipedes and cold/heat beware). I also like, at least for an ephemeral house, the whole foundation being decked and the stud walls put on top. If u want to move them u can. We don’t customise houses anymore like that because they are much too expensive/we can’t or we won’t.

  21. Dear Mr Sellers, thank you for your review. It’s an honest review for sure; but honest doesn’t necessarily mean fair as well. Granted, the book is overpriced, but it doesn’t purport to be anything other than what its back cover says (image available on Amazon) – even more so if you bother to check what Mr Roberts specialises in. As Mr Roberts himself implied above, the only outcome of this harsh review will be an increase in visits to his website. I’m sure I’m not the only one who visited the site already, and promptly downloaded some interesting books or booklets that are available for free.

    1. Paul Sellers

      Then there is really no problem. He gained customers and sold a few more books, great! I have no issue with that. I am sure he replicates other books to sell that should be in circulation and available so my taking issue with the one book does not reflect his whole library which I know nothing of at all. It wasn’t in any way harsh, and it was far from unfair, the truth is the truth and often the truth needs to be said forthrightly as it is, that’s my view.

  22. Hmm. I have been interested im trying it out since reading Mike Pekovich’s latest book. He has a good section on how to make kumiko and some examples. I would say his book is a great addition to any woodworker’s library.

  23. mike chartier

    Tangentially related- Have you ever watched Ishitani’s videos? He’s this (relatively) young woodworker who does beautiful work. And I was surprised to see him using an oil-rag-in-can, and wonder if he got the idea from you.

    1. Paul Sellers

      Fraid I don’t watch videos or tv. Rag-in-a-can oiler Possibly. Lots of tubers have copied the idea and that’s fine.

    2. I love his videos. He manages to use a combination of machines and hand tools and even though loud machines, his videos still have a calming effect.

  24. It is because you have the courage to actually recommend (or not) a tool or a publication that you have such an ardent following. Keep it up!

  25. Desmond King is the MAN, when it comes to western kumiko guys….. His books ROCK!!

  26. I also bought a book from Toolemera Press (“Mechanic’s Companion” by Peter Nicholson) with the date of publication printed on the cover (1850). I bought it partially because Highland Tools (local to me in Atlanta, GA) had it on sale, and partly because I’ve always been intrigued by the ways the ‘old guys’ solved their problems (my background was as a US trained cabinet maker for 17 years). While I can’t say Mr. Nicholson had much useful information, since it reflected 170 year old technology, I will say that as a book sitting on the back of my commode, I’ve read it pretty well cover to cover. Also, his treatise on ‘The Steam-Engine: Its Uses &c.’, being the shiny, new technology of his day, was utterly fascinating. A good way to anchor the back of the toilet.

  27. The book is a collection of designs; ideas to inspire. The Japanese title says so and so does the English title, which actually gives more information than the Japanese. There would be other books related to actual construction technique. The words shoji and kumiko are not written in the title but from the cover diagram the content should be understood. Additionally this is a reproduction of a book from around the Meiji period, so consideration of printing conditions at that time should be given. There are many similar books in Japan, old and modern, intended to give ideas on design, not on actual construction. I have seen similar European books on lute and guitar rose design that give no instruction to the actual making.
    If you are interested : The small characters at the top of the Japanese title are written nihon kenchiku, which means Japanese architecture. The rest of the title in larger characters is tateguzuanshu, which means basically a collection of designs for building items. The word tategu is used as a very general expression of things related to building, including furniture. Zuan means design, and shu comes from atsumeru, meaning to collect. Note that the character for zu is an old one and not in general use any more.
    As for the cost of the book. Given that it is probably a very small print run then I would say the setup costs etc would make an individual copy quite expensive. I have looked for similar reproduction books in Japan and they cost between 2,500 – 4,000 yen; not a really dissimilar price to that paid by the reviewer.
    I feel sorry that the reviewer was disappointed by the content of the book, but he might consider more carefully the intention of some of these old books when they were originally written. In this case the title of the book is quite clear about the content.
    I have lived in Japan for 28 years and woodworking is one of my hobbies.

    1. Paul Sellers

      If anyone is looking for a really nuts and bolts book on Shoji including patterns and templates, the full how-to and so on, then they should just cut to the chase and buy Desmond King’s book Shoji and Kumiko Book 1 The Basics. What I will be presenting in my video is not an in-depth treatise on the culture of making Shoji but just a way to make a basic screen using western hand tools and techniques. His book covers cultural details, historical perspectives, and highly specialised tools that I had no need of. It is highly informative and well presented. He also follows up with pattern books to more advanced levels of Shoji patterns but I have not ordered those as that is not my direction. With all that this book gives the book is a mere £15.55 with free delivery for Prime members with Amazon.

  28. Roger Dickinson

    I speak as someone with a very large experience of buying and using (in my design practice) books on designed objects and art works. In my opinion your remarks about this book are based on disappointment and a mistaken view of the purpose of the book. I used to have an original copy of a similar book to this and used it for textile design inspiration. It was in no way intended to show how to make a screen, only to show the many variants of possible layouts to someone who would use the skill he already possessed to make them. The format (like a child’s colouring book) is a very effective way of displaying these layouts in as simple a way as possible. There are usually more ways of using this type of book than simple practical instruction.

  29. There is no excuse for the seller not providing a thorough description of the book. Not doing so only leads to disappointment as anyone might have forecast. Hopefully this experience will encourage him to be more forthright.

    1. The book is, as described in the page opposite the Verso, a c1930 Japanese architectural shoji design proposal. Not a how-to manual, by any means.

      My thanks to Mr. Sellers, whose critique of this book has served to increase sales. Hopefully he won’t see fit to delete my response as he did earlier ones?

      Have a good day in the workshop.

  30. Terrence OBrien

    Has anyone noticed the similar writing styles used in the posts supporting the book? Possibly the artisan style.

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