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Judge Also Does a Little Publishing : O.C. Jurist Admits His Output of Tiny Books Is Small-Time

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Calling a contact number for Judge Leonard Goldstein, folks might think they have reached a 900 number by mistake. There is a female voice on the other end, one speaking in a whisper so that soft words aren’t coming through, only a tickling sibilance on the hairs of the ear. Finally, the words “Department 25" register, along with the realization that the phone on the other end is in a courtroom , and court is in session. You find yourself whispering back, not wanting to disturb the decorum.

It must be a strange gig--right up there with convent life--to don the robe and have people always whispering around you, to be enclosed in an aura of deference, civility and order; to be seated above the fray and have book-lined chambers to which to repair; to be just .

“Judges are human,” maintains Orange Superior Court Judge Goldstein, whose specialty is complex civil law. “You don’t step through some magic mirror and become a judge. It’s not euphoria. It’s not celestial well-being. You don’t hear horns and go up to heaven. Judges are not gods. Judges are just human beings with a very responsible job. They get tired. Sometimes they lose their temper. They do everything all people do in the usual circumstances.”

Including having hobbies.

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Goldstein’s hobby is decidedly more refined than, say, monster-truck racing, but it gets points for having such a high pun potential it is a true effort to not resort to any in this story.

The judge collects and publishes miniature books. He has amassed some 500 tiny editions; a modest collection, he says, contrasted with one woman he knows with more than 12,000. His publishing output is similarly small. With only six volumes issued in the past 13 years, it may be with no false modesty that he claims, “I’m probably one of the least-known publishers there is.”

But, though they are easily palmed, his small books are far from toys. He says it can take at least nine months and as much as $10,000 to see one into production, and to look at them, you’d believe it.

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We talked last Thursday in Goldstein’s indeed very book-lined chambers adjoining his courtroom on the seventh floor of the 700 building in the Civic Center. The walls and shelves were adorned with likenesses of Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, while a computer screen behind the judge flashed the message, “Welcome to CHAOS,” which Goldstein explained is the apt acronym for the courts’ intercommunications system.

At 63, Goldstein looks a bit like a more-civilized Allen Ginsberg. In his 18 years on the bench--17 of those as a Superior Court judge--he has gained a reputation for seeing his way through grindingly complex civil cases with a thoroughness and evenness that has earned praise even from litigants who come out on the losing side.

He was first attracted to miniature books in the early 1960s, when, looking for a gift for a friend in government service, he found a volume containing John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address published by one Achille St. Onge, who had been making miniatures since 1935.

“And because I was taken by the quality of the work, and because of the attraction of the miniature, which may have some unconscious appeal to one’s youth, I wrote to Mr. St. Onge and asked if he had other titles in print, and he kindly sent me a catalogue, and I promptly started collecting,” Goldstein said.

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He continued to correspond with the Massachusetts-based publisher for 20 years, and after St. Onge died, Goldstein was moved to first publish his own books. Though his premiere 1981 volume, “Duke Ellington Remembered,” was a tribute to the great composer and pianist penned by the jazz critic of the New Yorker, in style and materials (including the type style, gilt page-edges and crushed calf-skin cover with a rounded spine) it was a tribute to St. Onge.

Though the output of the Gold Stein publishing house has been limited thus far to six volumes, the titles are impossible to pigeonhole. Along with the book on Ellington, there are works on Halley’s comet, the Statue of Liberty, early female race-car drivers and two poems by Ray Bradbury.

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How does he pick his titles?

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“The primary consideration is that it lends itself to miniaturization, which means that it cannot be overly long. But it’s surprising how much material and information you can get into a small book. The Duke Ellington book, when it originally ran in the New Yorker, ran for 2 1/2 pages, about 3,000 words, and that’s about right. I don’t print anything you can’t read without magnifying glasses.”

Goldstein does own a copy of what is regarded as the world’s smallest book, but he got it only because he knows its author and publisher, Scottish writer Ian MacDonald.

“His is a quarter of an inch square, and it’s almost impossible to read. I like to be able to read books. I think a book ceases to be a book when it doesn’t lend itself to being read,” he said.

Other than size, Goldstein said, the main determinant in what he publishes is “vanity. If it appeals to me , I think in terms of publishing it. And I guess my taste is eclectic.”

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Though his preference in reading runs more to histories than novels, he is a fan of Ray Bradbury’s and wrote to him to see if he had any original poems he would be willing to let Goldstein publish.

“He responded almost immediately and sent a couple of his poems. He’s a wonderful chap. I’d love to get a poem from Ray Bradbury every second or third year, because he’s such a marvelous guy to work with and his material is so well received and it’s so much fun putting together an appropriate medium to convey his good work in,” Goldstein said.

For that first volume, he and Bradbury settled on doing the spiritual poem “Long After Ecclesiastes.” Goldstein’s concern for conveying it in an “appropriate medium” is evident: The book comes in a marbled sleeve; the cover has a cutout shaped like a Roman arch, revealing a silvered panel with a portion of Ecclesiastes rendered in Hebrew text; inside, Bradbury’s poem is accompanied by intaglio, embossed and serigraph designs by artist and book designer Joseph D’Ambrosio.

Limited to a print run of 75 copies, the book originally sold for $100 and now commands $450 in dealers’ catalogues. (All of Goldstein’s editions are limited; his largest run of any book was 650 copies.)

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Goldstein assisted in the design of that book and has done all the design work on others, which he says is his greatest pleasure in doing the books.

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While the small books he makes and collects may seem a novelty today, he says they have a history as long as their larger brethren.

“These books are a natural follow-on from pre-printing tomes which were carried by very wealthy and powerful people in the early 15th Century. It was very difficult and costly to produce books, so they tended to be small, the stepchildren of missals. When printing came into its own it was also a very costly trade. So many books were small because they were economically produced and they were more portable.

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“It became fashionable then for rich and powerful people to have libraries in miniature so they could take them with them in their carriages when they moved about from one residence to another. It was really a sport of royalty. Of course when you go back that far, literacy was probably limited to fewer than 15% of the population.”

He thinks that, five centuries on, we may have become a post-literate society, and he has grave concerns about that possibility.

“We seem to be moving now toward entertainment as the most sought-after quantity in our society. We pay people who entertain us much too much money. We mimic them. We use the toothpaste they use. We vote for the people they vote for. We either cut down trees or make protective rings around them depending on who our favorite entertainer is and what they’re doing.

“And that’s an abandonment of individual thinking, and a dilution, maybe even an eradication, of the philosophical, political and ethical principals that are at least some of the threads that go to make up the fabric of our nation.

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“I happen to be fond of the Founding Fathers. I find wisdom there that is pertinent today. But we no longer seem to teach civics. I’m not sure what we’re teaching at all, because you find a lot of young people who never heard of these things.” *

Goldstein said much of his sense of justice was derived from reading.

“I think the wisdom writings--the Bible, Old and New Testament and the wisdom writings of a number of cultures--have helped me formulate my sense of justice. I think you should accept wisdom from whatever source it comes.

“Laotzu, the Chinese philosopher, said something that has stuck with me for a very long time. He said you can know the world without leaving your home if you have books. That’s a very significant saying, and true also.”

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When growing up, most kids are more likely to fantasize about leading the sort of action-packed lives that wind them up on charges before a judge than they ever dream of being a judge. Goldstein was different.

“When I was young I wanted to become involved in government--though not necessarily the judiciary--because government seemed to be such an honorable, decent pursuit and so much good seemed to flow from it. I’d like to think, too, that was not a bad evaluation at the time, though I’m not sure it’s true today. It has become professional and politicians seem to want to confuse the source of power with the seat of power.”

He doesn’t view the pleasure he takes in his tiny books as an escape from his work.

“I don’t look for things to take my mind off my work because I enjoy my work too much,” he said, adding that the months of endless particulars and repetition that can accompany a complex civil case never become tedious to him.

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“I never feel that, because I know that however mundane a problem may seem, to the people pursuing it it’s the most important thing in the world. . . . The more complex the issue the better I like it, though I treat less complex issues with the same care. In a sense it’s like being a doctor. If you’re going to take a scalpel to somebody, it doesn’t really make any difference whether you’re doing a heart transplant or taking out an ingrown toenail: You can still cut and hurt. So you have to be equally careful,” he said.

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The most satisfying thing about being a judge, he said, is when he’s able to feel he’s done his job well. And the downside? “The worst aspect is that it’s hard to put your kids through college on what you get paid.”

His publishing hobby doesn’t help much in that regard either. Though he accounts himself a success in small-book publishing, that is clearly a matter of definition.

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“You don’t make a living off this. Success is breaking even. I haven’t lost any money. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and I’m really fond of the books. And the few that I have copies left of, I find make marvelous gifts, especially for little people, 10- and 11-year-olds who are just getting into literature. You give them a little book and they don’t feel so intimidated by it.”

Say, these little books would be just the thing to sneak into a courtroom, too.

“I ask people not to read in the courtroom out of respect for the proceedings, and if you don’t have the restriction, they sometimes do things that are really distracting like folding newspaper pages,” Goldstein said. “But I suppose you could get away with reading a miniature because they are quiet and hard to see and not offensive.”


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