11 July 2004

Books to Look At

The physicality of a book is not, generally, as important to me as the text. I go to most books for the words they contain, and though I would love to be able to afford beautiful rare editions, prudence and necessity have led me to choose to own many cheap books rather than a few expensive ones. However, I do have a few volumes that I venerate as much for their design as for their content.

To that latter list I must now add McSweeney's Issue 13, a comics issue guest edited by Chris Ware. If you want to know about the content, read Matt Peckham's thorough review. (I know almost nothing about comics, so I defer to Matt, who is quite well read in that area.) All I can say is I bought the book because more than one review said it was beautiful, and I wanted some beauty that day. For the cost of a regular hardcover book (a bit less than most, actually), you, too, can possess a thing of beauty. I wondered for a little while whether anyone who actually knows things about comics would find it as fun to leaf through (and unfold) as I do, but Matt's review answers that question.

I also recently got review copies of the first two books in a series of British fantasies for kids that are only now being published in the U.S., the Edge Chronicles. The stories are engaging, though episodic, but the design -- including the copious illustrations by Chris Riddell -- is what sets these books apart from many others. Some examples of the illustrations are available at the series' website, though that can offer only a flat glimpse at the real joy of the books, which is in their design and layout, the way the text wraps around the pictures, the feel of the paper. To their credit, Random House didn't use ultra-cheap methods of producing the books, and so they are a joy to read not only for the stories, but for the books as objects in their own right. They aren't as lovely as many small-press books, but they are a pleasant surprise coming from one of the profit-first conglomerated behemoths that dominate the world of publishing.