Friday, December 2, 2011

In Of Mice and Men, one of the main characters, Lenny, famously has a fondness for "soft things." And whom among us isn't tactile, perhaps not to the intense degree of Lenny himself, but there is something about the feel of tiny, hoppy bunnies--or particularly well-made books--that makes them that much more satisfying to enjoy.

Maybe the most obvious texture that a lot of favorite books have is the deckled edge, the byproduct of an old way of papermaking that leaves the edges of a paper artfully rough (observe photo left). Nowadays, only artisans make paper this way, so when you get a book with these edges it's usually faked by a machine to make the book look real legit. But it does have a certain fancy feel to it, even if it makes it difficult to flip through the pages. Sometimes a book is given a fancy texture in another way. Varnishes, like metallic foil or spot gloss are pressed onto a cover to give the color of the jacket more POP and the result is also a tactile delight. The embossing on some covers, too, gives a subtle look to the jacket but also makes it really pleasant to hold, and also therefore more difficult to put down.

Recent books that employ this technique really well are the Penguin Threads series designed by magically amazing artist Jillian Tamaki. For three recent reprintings of Black Beauty, Emma and The Secret Garden, Tamaki HAND-EMBROIDERED jacket illustrations, and when the books were printed, the texture of the threads was embossed on the cover, making them stunning art objects that are compulsively touchable. Rachel Sumpter is designing the next three covers for Wind in the Willows, Wizard of Oz and Little Women. They are STUNNING.

Of course, sometimes texture and touch are employed in the design of a book in a way that is integral to the text. Firmin by Sam Savage (a recent acquisition in the UBC) is the story of a rat born in a 1960s Boston bookstore (not us!) who devours literature both literally and figuratively. The book is die cut with a huge bite-mark taken out of the right side, all the way through the book. It's a playful way of introducing a central element of the story into the design, and makes it a really fun book to pick up and inspect. It's sort of a grown-up version of classic touch-and-feel books like Pat the Bunny, where images, text and texture combine to help young toddlers in the tactile phase with language acquisition. This phenomenon is timeless, and since the publication of Pat the Bunny in 1940 there have been a plethora of additions to this category of books. A more recent one that I'm particularly fond of is Betsy Snyder's Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger which employs some really creative materials to imitate turtle skin and walrus whiskers in particular.

This completes my little blog-series on senses by-the-book. Thanks for reading! As always, come check us out in the Used Book Cellar! And remember we can even give you money for your already-felt books. Stay in the black this year and exchange your books for store credit, then take care of all your holiday shopping under our roof. We buy Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 4PM.

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