We spent some time last month discussing the value of a book – and by that, we’re not distinguishing between print, electronic, audio or picture books. Each has their place, value, preference, and use. For example, there’s a strong correlation between the graphics of a near-wordless picture book and a teen or grownup-intended graphic novel. There’s a direct, extraordinary relationship between the wordplay of Dr. Seuss and e. e. cummings or Wallace Stevens or Dylan Thomas.
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A picture book can provide social awareness, from Sarah Wilson’s ‘The Day Henry Cleaned His Room’ (where reporters converge on the household to interview participants and take photos) to ‘Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood’ by Marjane Satrapi.
In a real and perfect sense, all books are E-books, in that at best they Explain, Exemplify, Enlighten, Enlarge, Engage, Enhance and Entertain the life or mind of the reader, no matter the physical format.
The format is a distinctly personal choice and there are individual merits and demerits that will vary from individual to individual. A book in print can be an heirloom – I think personally of my copies of Swinburne, Robinson Jeffers and paperback copy of selected stories by H. P. Lovecraft, purchased when the sixty-cent cover price was a major financial endeavor.
Their presence sparks joy – in a Kondo-ian sense – and reminiscence that will be retained forever. However, in keeping one’s books close and always at hand I select an E-reader, that allows, within 10 or 12 ounces the full contents of hundreds of books with room and indexing for thousands more. Education and entertainment on the go anywhere.
Others may prefer the home library where titles are copiously and lovingly arranged by author or title or size or color (depending on individual preference) that demonstrates to all visitors that the inhabitants value the life of the mind (or in worst-case the ostentation of the life of the mind).
One selects the format for the best-intended utility and use. For example, nothing replaces the coffee-table-sized print formatting for large-scale photographs or maps. I find verse more conducive – in formatting and meaning – on the printed page.
At no time in history – possibly excepting the lovingly hand-crafted tomes of the Middle Ages – have print titles been better constructed, designed and distributed. Book jacket cover art has emerged as a recognized art as well as to the purpose of pulling the prospective buyer into the merits of the story.
Indicative of this has been the recent rise of cover-art lists: for example, ‘best cover art of the month’ or ‘best book design’ of the month for newly published print titles, joining bestseller lists and ‘best-read’ lists as a viable and accessible road into the world of books.
‘Best’ is always in the mind of the beholder, but I find the consistent design of the Maisie Dobbs books, the inside-back cover surprise of Susan Orleans’ ‘The Library Book,’ Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch,’ as well as the newly printed‘Black Leopard Red Wolf’ and ‘King of Scars’ to be exceptional.