Monday, July 24, 2017

Pretty Books for Pretty Books Sake

A couple weeks ago I saw an article posted somewhere (can't remember where or when, or else I'd link to it, sorry!) all about how hard copy books are outselling ebooks because publishers have caught on to this idea of making books really pretty. So, instead of producing millions of ugly, cheap, mass market paperbacks (like they were a decade ago), they've gone in for super pretty covers, gilt edges, special editions, beautiful artwork, etc. And it's worked! People are buying these pretty books, and thus the book publishing industry has survived.

What I remember most, however, is a comment some reader made on this article. It said something to the effect of "Can we please stop fetishizing books?!?!?"

And I've not been able to stop thinking about this comment, because, well, because I'm a huge sucker for pretty books. I love quality books, vintage books, or books that were made for no other reason than to sit on the shelf and be admired. Is this so wrong? Is this the wrong way to appreciate books? Should I be more puritan in my views and only love books for the messages and words they hold, not the cover they come with? Never judge a book, etc., etc.

So I was having a bit of a tiny moral crisis over this little comment for a while, until I started reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I'm still in the middle of this one (curse those library due dates coming up too quickly!) but in brief this is the fictional story of a rare book, the beautifully illustrated Serajevo Haggadah (which is a real book, Brooks just fictionalized the backstory). This novel follows the story of the book, from the modern expert hired to study it, back through the hands of all the people who helped rescue, rebind, restore, and originally create this beautiful book.

I've found this novel fascinating on many levels, but one is that I took a bibliography class in grad school that was all about historical book binding and construction. One of my assignments was to pick a book out of our library's special collections and do a full analysis of the folios, paper weights, measurements, binding materials, etc. At the time, I thought the assignment was tedious and pointless (I was there to talk about books, not measure them with a ruler!), but I've been amazed at how much I've appreciated knowing this sort of information about how books are physically made. So I felt a real kinship with Hannah, the rare book expert in this novel who does just such an analysis of the Haggadah.

What this story of a beautiful rare book has impressed on me all over again is that books are important for the words inside them, but also as objects of art. Often, the two go hand in hand. The more beautiful or important the words, the more they deserve to be housed in beautiful covers. So bring on the pretty covers! Bring on the gilt edges! Bring on the heavy-weight papers and the illustrated editions and the fancy designs!

I still love some good cheap books. Well, actually what I love are free books (libraries forever!). And, ironically, 90% of the books I've read in the last year haven't had covers at all (as in, they've been audio or ebooks read or listened to on my Kindle or phone).

But when it comes to the books I want to buy? The books I want sitting on my shelf? I want those to be beautiful, on the inside and on the outside. I want quality and design. I want only the best books, only the most beautiful words, and I want covers to match.

I'm totally here for the pretty books.


  1. Haha, I love this post so much! And you know I agree with you 100%. Pretty books forever!

    1. Yes, I knew I could count on you to agree. :)