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Re: [BKARTS] Ehon... and journeying into the book
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Book_Arts-L [mailto:BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]On Behalf Of
> Andrew Eason
> Sent: Monday, December 25, 2006 6:35 AM
> But I'm also interested in how others think about the transition
> between the
> outside and inside of the book. Some questions on the topic might include-
> What do we, as readers, take with us into the book? What can we do as
> makers, authors and artists (or what you will) to accomplish this
> sense of somewhere
> else? What sorts of rhetoric, visual or tactile or written, do we emply?
> How do we make places to go to in our books?
Andrew - I have been thinking about your questions over the last busy days.
While I'm assuming that you are talking about artists books in particular,
one problem with the question is, "what is meant by 'book'?"
For me, there are several kinds of books and each demands its own status in
any discussion. Briefly, I'd say I'd categorize books as (a) reference
resources, (b) entertainment sources, (c) art forms.
Basic criteria for a book would be 1: architecture/structure, 2: physical
appropriateness to purpose, 3: aesthetic. All of these should be employed in
the making of any book, but their importance shifts depending on if the book
falls into category a, b, or c.
Pleasing books in category (a) depend mainly on criterion 1: they need to be
and internally organized for easy access to information - usually with an
explanatory table of contents, a detailed index, adequate footnotes,
appendices, and whatever bibliographical or other information is needed to
make them complete. A big plus is headers or footers on each page that refer
to the immediate topic on those pages. re item 2: they need to be sturdy,
easy to open (lie open if possible), and printed in readable typeface. re 3:
They should be appropriately illustrated to enhance understanding of the
topic, they can have a self-explanatory cover illustration, and it's a big
plus if they are printed on pleasing paper. But mainly they need to present
the information clearly and in a volume that lends itself to the use
Category 2 would include works of fiction, poetry, literature, and
amusement-reading of all kinds. This category actually has two components;
books of enduring quality (re content) and books of immediate interest. The
latter would be popular fiction and non-fiction of the sort that one carries
in the purse or pocket, takes on vacation, reads in bed or the bathtub. Mass
market paperbacks serve part of this purpose, but I find them least pleasing
to hold and to read (not the least problem being that as I'm falling asleep
reading, they tend to spring out of the hand and fly across the bed or
room). I prefer the larger-format trade paperback - one that opens easily,
has clear and readable typeface and good margins (for aesthetic appeal), and
I'll often be attracted to such a book by the cover illustration! (I do, of
course, examine it in more depth before deciding on a purchase, but a
well-done illustration can often convey not just the genre and the subject
or story line, but if it's really well done it can convey something of the
author's tone, voice, or style.)
"Enduring" books of this type need to be well-constructed, employ a good
aesthetic in design, typography, paper, layout, illustration (if any), etc.
In other words, "quality." Some books in this category surely supercede the
expected aesthetic. "The Notebooks of Loren Eiseley" for one....just a
lovely book to have in your hands. A novel by Louis
Charbonneau..."Trail"....about the Lewis and Clark expedition largely from
the viewpoint of Merriwether Lewis's Newfoundland dog, Seaman. This is a
thick book with nice-feeling paper but the entrancing thing about it (aside
from a damned good story) is that each chapter is headed with a string of
dog prints across the page. Somehow that makes you feel that the dog prints
are blazing a trail for you, leading you through the book. Good cover art is
a big plus. When I engage a book that I want to engage me, I don't want it
to have a crappy cover illustration. I want to feel a little surge of
pleasure each time I pick it up.
At the high end of this scale, of course, are books printed in letterpress -
the wonderful tactile quality can't be duplicated with a machine; on thick
creamy paper, with generous spacing and kerning of a rich, readable
typeface. A cover with touchy-feely quality. A book you caress while you
read it - with your hands, your eyes, and the rest of your senses. (Books
should smell good and sound good as you turn the pages, too.)
Type 3 - the book as art form - needs to engage primarily the aesthetic
senses. How such a book engages the reader ("reader" applied loosely here)
partly depends on the aesthetics that most appeal to that individual. I
think that the general population is intrigued by interactive qualities -
pop-ups, removable parts, things tucked away in pockets and envelopes,
things to be removed and examined. Look at the success of Nick Bantock's
"Griffith and Sabine" series - they touched off a whole genre of such books.
This explains the current passion for altered books, etc.
I think that most of us are still in the thrall of the codex and Western
reading - i.e., left-to-right. I know that when an artist's book employs a
visual element that leads from left to right (as with an accordion-style
book with strong horizontal linear lines such as landscape, birds in flight,
waves, etc.) I relate to it spontaneously. But it is also intriguing to have
the architecture surprise us and demand our interactive participation. For
example, "Aunt Sallie's Lament" by Margaret Kaufman and Claire Van Vliet.
Now, here is a book with an expressive structure (die-cut colored pages that
emulate quilt squares) house in a series of slip-cases that, just by
removing them, leads you into interaction with the structure. The poem is
fine, engaging on several levels. But most intriguing is the descant, or
sub-text, that runs along some of the quilt-piece edges and is exposed in
various ways as you turn the pages. It's a form of archaeology - having to
dig out the subtext (under-the-breath commentary) from the text. This part
of the text also enhances the idea that the woman's sorrow has been stitched
into her quilts. In other words, it's not just a gimmick - it adds layers of
meaning and experience for the reader. (This is also a great "performance"
book to a small audience!) Julie Chen is masterful at creating books that
are complex structurally, but with a structure that supports the message.
I can enjoy a book without text, if it has a concept that I can grasp or
ferret out. I can enjoy creative structures if they enhance the "message"
rather than just show off a trick or two. I suppose an artist's book is like
a poem - a condensation of a powerful emotion or observation. For me, all of
the parts need to work together to enhance and entice and engage.
Well, for all the words I used here I'm not sure that I have really
expressed what I want to say, nor am I at all sure that I have addressed the
question. However, it's an intriguing question and I hope that there might
be some discussion by others.
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The Prints & The Paper
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