In the days of growing eBook popularity: how do you draw attention back to ye olde print on paper books? We hear more and more people questioning what will happen to the printed book: as the experience of reading on a tablet or eReader becomes more user friendly, and as a new generation of readers who have become accustomed to reading on screens grow up — will there still be demand for on paper books? Many of us who grew up reading in print can’t imagine a day when print books won’t exist, but a lot of us who passionately endorse printed books, still see the convenience of eReaders (especially those of us who are accustomed to travelling with lots of bulky books in tow).
In my position as Collection Development Librarian for Halifax Public Libraries, I’ve been seeing a growing number of books that seem to be put together with the print reader in mind. What better way to keep the physical book in demand than to put books together in such a way that the physical format enhances the reading experience. Remember pop-up books from when you were a kid? More and more we’re seeing similar things for grown-ups. If you’re a fan of print on paper books — here’s a few you’ll want to check out.
The best example of this from this year has to be S. a new novel by JJ Abrams (of Lost fame) and Doug Dorst (M). There was a lot of secrecy about this book leading up to its release and when it finally arrived, it was a book within a book of sorts and also filled with additional papers — letters, photos, newspaper clippings — inserted amongst the pages, and other textual enhancements. Here’s the description from the publisher:
“A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown. The book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V.M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey. The writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumors that swirl around him. The readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.”
Another recently released book includes additional papers like S. but does so to enhance the telling of factual events. History Decoded: the 10 greatest conspiracies of all time (M) by Brad Meltzer includes facsimiles of archival documents related to each of the 10 cases it discusses. “Bound in at the beginning of each story is a custom-designed envelope—a faux 19th-century leather satchel, a U.S. government classified file—containing facsimiles of relevant evidence: John Wilkes Booth’s alleged unsigned will, a map of the Vatican, Kennedy’s death certificate.”
This kind of book layout isn’t exclusively a brand new phenomena of course, as readers of the popular 1990s Griffin and Sabine books (M) will recall. That series took the idea of epistolary fiction (i.e. fiction told through letters) to a new height by actually making each page of the book an envelope with a hand written note enclosed in it.
Last year, a popular title that showed up on many year end best of lists was Building Stories (M) by Chris Ware. A graphic novel, the book is literally a box filled with several different booklets, folded papers and even a game board. By reading the various parts you are told the story of the residents of a Chicago apartment building.
Playing with the format of a book also doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to include additional parts. Tree of Codes (M) by Jonathan Safran Foer took exactly the opposite approach in fact, it removed information from a previous book to tell its story. Tree of Codes is an example of what you call die-cutting and for the book Foer took the text of a favourite book of his — Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles — and literally cut parts out. The resulting book, has pages with large gaps on them, where you read around those gaps to discover a new story that Foer has carved from the old.
Do you have a favourite book that plays with design to enhance the story? Tell us in the comments below.