Books to Touch

The eBooks-will-take-over-the world-folks are speaking very loudly these days but I say stop the shouting. Yes, eBooks are very cool. You can read them on your Sony Reader or Nook or iPad late at night with the blankets over your head, just like you did with a flashlight when you were a kid. You can tuck a whole library into your purse and carry it without giving yourself a sore shoulder. You can fly across the country confident that you won’t run out of reading material before you have reached the airspace over Kansas. So, as I said, eBooks are very cool.

And because we believe that they are cool, and know many of you like them too, we have many thousands of Google eBooks available for your downloading pleasure on our website. So if you are inclined to do some or all of your reading on a device, we are here for you. And our prices are competitive.

But while some publishers are digitizing their entire catalogs as fast as they can, others seem to have missed the memo. They are instead turning out beautiful, pick me up and touch me books.

Chronicle Books is one such publisher. They have just released Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop. The pages of the book are scalloped! I have never seen anything quite like it. You cannot keep yourself from running your fingers across the edges and then you must open the book and look at it and, well, it is quite wonderful. It conjures doilies and special bakery boxes and fancy paper place mats and pleated cupcake papers all at once. If you can stop marveling at the scalloped edges for a few minutes, you will want to read how to make the lovely cakes and tarts within.

In October, Atria (Simon and Schuster) is publishing Dreaming of Chanel: A Wardrobe Full of Stories by Charlotte Smith with water color illustrations by the fashion illustrator Grant Cowan The book is the sequel to Dreaming of Dior. Both books are about the vast collection of vintage clothing that Smith inherited from her godmother and the stories behind the dresses. The new book will have a cherry red cover with a stylish woman in a black dress. The dress is made of fuzzy black velvet and stands a minute fraction of an inch higher than the rest of the creamy smooth cover. I, who know nothing of fashion and care not a white for it, could not resist the black velvet. I had to sweep my fingers across the dress. There will be an eBook edition of the Dreaming of Chanel but what is a book about dresses without a dress?

Touch-me books can be literary too. Read this description of itself from Canada’s Coach House Books: There’s a laneway in downtown Toronto named after a poet: bpNichol Lane. Tucked away on that back alley is a crumbling old garage – a coach house—and inside it are two Heidelberg printing presses, an Autominabinda binder, and a big guillotine-like cutter. Passing through those machines is a gorgeous, antique-colored laid paper called Zephyr. And on that paper sits some of the most intriguing lines and sentences you’ll ever encounter.

The paper sounds wonderful and it is. It is what good books of poetry and fiction should be printed on. It is the house stock at Coach House. They explain that it is a “ a paper specially milled for us in Quebec. It is composed of young spruce and pine tree fibres, with no bleach. Of particular importance is the grain. Each piece of paper has grain going in a certain direction (and each piece has a rough (‘wire’) side and a smooth (‘felt’) side. Our paper is cut with the grain going in the proper direction. This ensures that, among other things, a book opens and closes properly. The surefire way to determine the direction of the grain: lick the piece of paper!”

Really! Pages you must not only run your fingers across but lick with the top of your tongue!

I think perhaps we can compare reading a book that has been printed on fine paper, that is carefully designed specifically for the contents, that has a velvet dress on the cover or scalloped edges, to drinking from a nicely shaped glass. A well-designed book contains and adds to the experience of reading just as a glass adds to the experience of drinking a glass of fine wine or artisan beer. Sure, there are times you will drink from a bottle or can or paper cup, just as there are times and books that you will choose an eBook. But I suspect there will always be books that are best savored as tactile, physical objects.
Posted by Suzy

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