Friday, October 21, 2011
Books rising like a phoenix.
Or, the un-death of the book. Much print and time and thought is spent these days to dithering about the book industry and how to go forward with old, boring, paper books. The answer, sometimes, is right in front of us. For some time one of my main concerns was the seemingly out-of-whack pricing in terms of new books. Biographies and Collected Poems were $35 or $40. New fiction was climbing up and over $25 towards $30. Those problems still exist--but there is a much more positive trend at work.
The flip-side of our technological 'problem' is that all coins have two sides. More books are being made into art objects currently at reasonable prices. Technology has made that possible. Art books, to be sure, are one category that has seen sales dip in museum and other specialty stores. But it isn't just art books that have become beautiful. It crosses all genres. In the past few weeks I have posted two books to our Facebook page that have forced me to stop unpacking boxes to sit and peruse and enjoy.
The first was Matt Kish's "Moby Dick in Pictures" which should be appreciated not only for its glorious work but also for the certain toil and hours spent creating it. It contains a piece of art for each page of Melville's true American masterpiece. There is short passage to accompany each page that comes from the book. I have already seen many customers page through it and say, "This is going on my holiday list." I'm one of them.
The second was Gingko Press' artistic rendition of Nabokov's "Pale Fire." Priced at $35 it comes with a kind of box set with two booklets and set of index cards. Everyone involved in this project should be proud of the end project--a work that combines words with images that ends with a tactile thing greater than the sum of its parts. This is not the first time Gingko has taken Nabokov to a new level. A few years back they had a book entitled "Alphabet in Color" that dealt with Nabokov's synesthesia. $25 and worth every single penny.
The bike trend has hit full-force and with Minneapolis/St. Paul consistently listed as one of the most bikeable areas in the country we've got the interest to buy books. Three titles we're currently featuring include a local bike map(that is in its 9th or 10th printing) that is made of paper that seems to rubber. It doesn't tear(and believe me, many a child has tried) and is water-resistant. It sells for $10.95. Cyclepedia comes to us from Chronicle Books, always doing good design on all manner of things, and is a look at 100 different bikes. Also $35. Last is a leather bound journal that comes with Nigel Peake drawings. It has some small folders to place things and lots of blank pages to jot down routes or ideas. It is small enough to easily fit in any handle bag and it costs $14.95. Under fifteen books with a leather cover with a handsome wheel design.
Not to ignore the more standard trade books. Archipelago, NYRB, Open Letter and many others are giving their books extra oomph in terms of production. They well know a book can no longer just be a book in order to catch a browser's eye and purse.
The kids books we see coming in every day are a giant step up from what they were even five years ago. Picture books, YA titles, board books and all kinds of clever packaging and design make them worth looking at over and over.
Finally, cookbooks. There used to be cookbooks that fell into either utilitarian(you could actually follow the recipes and make good food) or art/photo cookbooks. Now these two groups are melding together. I got one in the mail earlier this week from Melville House. I've spouted long and long for these guys who have their hands in so many great things its become hard to track. They brought Hans Fallada to the American audience and run a series called the Neversink Library which is new favorite of mine. They, more recently, have started a program for bookstores(indie and chain) to adopt a penguin by selling some copies of their books. Yet it is one of their food books I've been spending time with the past three days. Stephane Reynaud's "Rotis" is food porn in its pictures and art but remains, at its best, a book that any home cook can work with and enjoy.
Does all of this mean the questions and problems facing us do not exist? Not at all. But they are a big part of the possible solutions.
Thanks go to Kurtis Scaletta, local author and friend of the store, for urging me to take this on in some detail.