Monday, April 26

New York Review of Books: The Book as Object

Alberto Moravia's Boredom  in the NYRB edition
 "The series boasts exquisitely presented books—affordable trade paperbacks with a beautiful cover image and wrapped in a dual-tone spine and back cover that form a literary rainbow when shelved together." I owe my interest in Alberto Moravia to NYRB.

Although my interest has waned recently, the series has always been like a beacon. Last year (or longer) I also got hooked on Peter Handke. The NYRB version of Sorrow Beyond Dreams got me scouring shelves for old copies of others like Short Letter, Long Farewell. A few months later, NYRB release a whole bunch. And sometimes that's how it happens for me: seeing the series handpick an author like that highlights them. I may not have given the book a chance otherwise.

Who doesn't love a good garish, vintage paperback? But there is just something so tidy and delicious about NYRB books. I can't stand how perfectly chosen the spine and inside flap colors are. And they are pleasant to read - not too small or big and spaced far from the center. And there is something so nice as seeing the cover of a book, the first impression, being revised and freshened. Another related good example of that is the double-issue Rabbit series.

One wonders what e-books could mean for book design as an object. Sure cover design will persist, as selling MP3s has shown for album covers. But the object itself - the size and girth that determine part of your reading experience may change. It's such a long story that hasn't been finished yet.

Jenny Saville the Rizzoli Monograph
I am really interested to see how this fairs for art books mostly. I've only recently had any experience witnessing change in monograph design. It seems art books have progressed from the wow factor of reproduced color plates pasted onto pages, into entire experiences, where studio shots are juxtaposed with other images and text to create an experience of art (kind of what I touched on before).

One of the best examples is the Jenny Saville Rizzoli book published like 5 or 6 years ago. I mention her alot, but wonder if this book alone has to do with that. I often pick it up when I'm at a loss in my studio. It's exciting to see full spreads of her large work followed by a detail of strokes and layers of decisions. Then a continuing page of interviews, with a studio shot of ideas left on the walls (a photograph included here of Nick Raffel's studio, that I always liked for the same reason). The book really informs me of how her practice might work - short of ever seeing it or talking to her.
Studio 2009 Nick Raffel (Photograph Stephan P. Ferreira)

I might owe even more to that monograph. When I bought a copy those 5 or 6 years ago, I realized  what the book could be. Maybe I respond to Saville the way I do because maybe that monograph has given me a more robust identity of her than of many others. I've since sought out books that exist as an experience rather than a cheap spread of reproductions.

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