Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Well, it's a start.

Just got a big fat envelope from the Alcuin Society. If you’re into books you should know these guys. They put on the only commercial book design awards I’ve ever heard of - the Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. If you’re a member, each year they’ll send you the catalogue of the prizewinning entries, with input from the judges. If you’re studying book design you’ll do well to study that catalogue, and to go see the prize-winning books, which are exhibited in Canada and in some international shows.  And no, they’re not paying me to say this. They don’t even know I’m saying it.

My big fat envelope contained the latest edition of the Society’s newsletter: “Amphora”, which I would go on to talk about except I don’t want to turn this post into a fave rave and besides, I have other things on my mind.

I thought for Post #2 I’d go with my definition of a book. Definitions are slippery – you think you’ve got them wrestled to the ground and then exceptions pop up and start the argument all over. So I’ll just say what I think.

What I call a book is one of those things you find on the shelves in library. More properly called a codex, the basic form hasn’t substantially changed in the past 2,000 years. I see them as a protective information storage and retrieval system designed to handle text printed on paper.  It’s important, so I’ll break that down:

Protective: the covers protect the textblock. The beginning and end pages of the textblock are sacrificial (and therefore usually blank), and are intended to protect the actual text. The pages ideally have wide margins which protect the words from accidental destruction by handling, sunlight, mice, dogs, etc.

Information storage and retrieval: the information is contained in words which must stay in order but need to be accessed out of order.  So the words are printed in order on pages that are usually numbered for easy reference. And if you’re really intent on providing easy information retrieval you might include an index, table of contents, cross-references, etc.

Why the definition? Because when you look at a book – whether you want to print one or bind one or repair one – you need to keep all this in mind.  When a book has problems it’s often because the person who made it lost track of its purpose.

It’s nice if the covers are pretty. It’s great if they provide information or help sell the book. But if your idea for a cover is something that wrecks the textblock, I’d say you need to go back and rethink.

Maybe a cover made with chicken wire is incredibly artistic and clever in light of the book’s content – but is “I want this book to shred itself under the customer’s very eyes” really what you’re thinking?

Maybe it’s way cheaper to cover a heavy book with lightweight paper but when the covers accidentally rip off before the customer pays for it – is that really a saving?

Repairs. There are many schools of thought, ranging from the ludicrously over-protective to the cavalier, but that’s for another day. I want to go read my “Amphora”.

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