Books, artifactually and anecdotally speaking …

Anecdotally speaking ……. it seems to me that the artifactual and design elements of print books are coming more to the fore, albeit in different ways. As the use of ebooks grows this is not really surprising, as this change creates niche opportunities for experiences focused specifically on the possibilities of the print medium. Some related trends are interesting. First, we are seeing physical books repurposed, recycled, or ‘upcycled’ to perform other functions. Second, we are seeing a focus on the aesthetics of print books, and on book arts in general. And third, we are seeing – I think? – more interest in artists’ books, in books as art, …
Here are are some examples …
We attended the Columbus ‘eco-chic craftacular’ a couple of weeks ago, pleasantly located only a couple of minutes walk from our house. I was interested to see ‘upcycled’ books on at least two stands, where physical books were being repurposed as notebooks and cases. I remember being in the bookstore in the Newberry Library last year, and being interested to see some similar examples. At the time of writing, a search on returns over 3.5K resuls for ‘upcycled books’ and nearly 7K for ‘recycled books (of course, not all of these are in fact recycled books, but a lot are).
The marvellous Caustic Cover Critic has an entry about a new publisher, Notting Hill Editions. He praises the appearance and design of the books and notes …

Several of the many, MANY, MANY future-of-the-book-in-the-face-of-ebooks pieces that have been cropping up in newspapers and online recently have mentioned that the way for physical books to survive in the future may be for them to be beautifully made objects. Notting Hill Editions are doing this just right–the look and feel of their books remind me of the precepts set out by master printer/typographer Daniel Berkeley Updike in his lovely The Well-Made Book. [Notting Hill Editions]

Peter Hirtle alerted me to the Caustic Cover Critic in a comment on a blog entry of mine which discussed book covers and other artifactual properties of books, in line with the comment in the piece quoted above.
Although, as I noted recently, I hope that we don’t see an either/or approach to publishing, where ‘beautiful’ books feel they don’t need an electronic parallel.
[Here are the reissued Virago classics which I discussed in the earlier blog entry. Of course, the original Viragos had those iconic green covers. Note the remarks about the current position of Virago in the entry.]


Finally, and anecdotally, what about artists’ books? Again, it seems to me that I see more on this topic, most recently, for example, The Art of the Book in California: Five Contemporary Presses, an exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford.
We lived in Bristol for many years, near the University of the West of England’s Bower Ashton campus, home of the Department of Art and Design. The Department has a Centre for Fine Print Research, with a specialisation in Artists’ Books. I mention it here as it provides an entry point into a range of other materials. See for example, Sarah Bodman‘s very recent presentation Artists and librarians: making art in and out of books [PDF].

2 thoughts on “Books, artifactually and anecdotally speaking …”

  1. Lorcan, I’m glad to learn that artists’ books and other contemporary books of beauty or other artifactual qualities are coming to your attention! I have no sense that there has been any particular increase in such activity of late–tons of unique (in the literal sense) artists’ book titles, printed editions, fine presses, exhibits, etc. have been out there in profusion without abatement for as long as I’ve been paying attention, which is a long time. But it’s great to know that you’re sensing a rise across the channels that you monitor, and that conversation about a more general return to appreciation of the book as artifact is growing. All types of book artist can always use more buyers. 🙂
    As for fine and artistic printing on your home turf, you may want to befriend Igloo Letterpress in Worthington. Proprietor is Allison Chapman, spouse of someone well known to all of us at OCLC. Better yet, go take some printing lessons! She’s fantastic, and her shop is a neighborhood gem.

  2. Jackie
    I thought about using the phrase ‘book arts’ and did add it while thinking that it referred to a whole array of activity which I was not really thinking about – which as you say continues in all sorts of ways.
    I was thinking about three things. [1] The repurposing of physical books. [2] The interest in producing ‘fine’ books in a publishing environment. [3] Artwork based on book themes.
    Of course, there is lots of overlap ….

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