Beauty is in the Hand of the Book Holder
Publishing changes the way I read. I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, a dreamy exploration of loneliness, love and friendship. I love it. But what catches my eye is the fabulous book design. There are pages and pages at the beginning, a squandering of trees and white that I automatically cost out. Each page number sits in a box of lines. The publishing information (the single most boring page of every book) is beautifully displayed. It even took me a moment or two to figure out that it was the publishing info.
I never appreciated the design before I became a publisher. Now, I study it out of professional appreciation, and as a novice trying to grasp the intricacies of good design.
Most books for adults have a rather predictable interior, to put it mildly. The text starts on page 1 and continues through to the end. In fantasy books there usually is a map and maybe even a motif of a sword or a crystal at the beginning of every chapter. Crime novels have a blunter font, romance has a gentler font and smaller pica (for some reason), and high end literary has a clean classic font. It all screams PREDICTABLE.
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And yet design enhances the read. It tells the story through other means. Acknowledging the importance of good design in no way denigrates the value of superb writing, excellent plotting and character development. Good design speaks to a different part of the mind. The non-reading part. The part that absorbs subconsciously the look and feel of something without conscious thought or analysis.
There are even publishing companies whose business model revolves around creating (or recreating) beautifully designed books. They only publish books that are inspiring to hold, flip through, put on your shelf. Their books are more than the printed word. They are cultural artifacts transmitting holdable beauty.
Recently, Claret Press published a collection of short stories, Insights: Fifteen Stories Exploring Disability with the net proceeds to benefit the Motor Neurone Disease Association. This collection includes the prize-winners of the short story competition that Claret Press hosted as well as all the finalists.
The stories are fabulous. So is the book itself.
It’s beautifully designed, with slashes of colour on the interior and fifteen photographs donated by internationally renowned artist, Tansy Spinks. The colour is sparse and diluted, the photos fuzzy and thought-provoking, even slightly off-putting. It is a design that challenges yet engages. As the theme of the book is mental and physical disability, with the stories dealing with this difficult topic in innovative ways, the design is absolutely complementary to the book. Indeed, it is integral. The book designer is Petya Tsankova and she deserves a round of applause for her sensitive work.
In the modern day, there’s not a reason in the world why every book can’t have as fun and funky a design as Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, or as radically artistic as Insights: Fifteen Stories Exploring Disability. One only needs a superb designer with a vision who understands the story and who has also mastered the fiendishly complex Adobe InDesign. Plus a publisher with deep pockets to pay for it.