Books: Too Good to Die

Antique_books_copyright_Jesse Karjalainen_iStockPhoto_5233400
© Jesse Karjalainen, iStockphoto® #5233400

True–you’re reading this online and you probably read eBooks of some sort. But technology also expands the options for traditional books as well.

Back in 2005, Valerie Kirschenbaum published Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of History and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. She was teaching the Canterbury Tales when a high school student asked, “How come our books are not in color like they used to be?” This led to her researching beautifully designed books of earlier centuries, and proposing that since we’re no longer limited to black-and-white and a single font or two, why not design full out? She gets so carried away, there are chapters where you’re ready for boredom relief. But when you reach the chapter printed in black and white, it’s so stark, it’s hard to believe we’re tolerating that.

(I would have titled this book Welcome Back, Gutenberg. I’ve been to the Mainz museum and seen an original Gutenberg Bible; it was stunning. Gutenberg did not invent ugly books. Let’s blame someone else.)

Many of the possibilities she predicted are playing out all over the digital book world. We don’t even remember how recent this is. We’re already so accustomed to it, I feel obligated to apologize for not illustrating this post.

Meanwhile, traditional bookmaking–handbound, letterpress, you name it–is also kicking. Here are a few projects and ventures I happen to know of. Please chime in to share more!

Pyracantha Press at Arizona State University: fine art limited editions

The Paper Studio, Tempe, AZ and online

Elissa Campbell’s handcrafted journals at Blue Roof Designs

Quinn McDonald’s, Raw Art Journaling

University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Kohler Library of Artists’ Books

Minnesota Book Arts

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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