The Beauty of the Book – what makes print publication so satisfying?

This weekend I spent Saturday morning at the bi-annual Lifeline Bookfest. For those of you have never been, picture two incredibly large exhibition halls, lined with tables, each one stacked with literally hundreds of secondhand books. ‘Bargains by the kilometre’ is how the Brisbane Times described it, with more that 2.5 million books for sale. Lifeline Bookfest is the world’s largest second hand book sale, and this Lost Shark picked up some incredible bargains, including Fractured Karma by Tom Clark, The Epigrams of Martial by Laurie Duggan, Voyage into Solitude by Michael Dransfield and Cup Full of River by Billy Jones. I walked away with a dozen poetry titles, some first editions, for just $3. That is a great way to start any weekend.

While I was walking around, semi-intoxicated by the smell of old books, I thought back to a question that was posed by Ashley Capes in response to the interview I did with Tiggy Johnson. Ashley asked ‘whether any of us could pin-point some of the things that made print publication so satisfying?’

As tactile beings, books offer a gift that is hard to define, and the experience of reading a good one can last a lifetime. For me, there’s no way to compare the fine art of bookmaking to designing even the most sophisticated web site/blog/ebook etc… I don’t see the digital revolution as a threat to books. In fact I think it provides exciting opportunities for print and digital media to intersect and evolve, with both forms benefiting.

But it is a great question that Ashley raises and one that I hope many of you will respond to… I look forward to reading your comments and exploring this issue further.


Filed under poetry & publishing

7 responses to “The Beauty of the Book – what makes print publication so satisfying?

  1. I bought fifteen books at the Lifeline sale this year and they are all laid out on my bed behind me as we speak. Gorgeously beautiful artefacts, you are right, there is magic in a book. The internet just makes books easier to create and to sell. It is a wonderful world of independent opportunities for writers.

  2. Wow what a bounty! The book fest sounds fantastic!
    I owned a bookshop in East Fremantle for quite some time until a brothel opened up next door with a common wall.. Such bliss to watch people stumble on treasures and clutch them to their chests.. or rub old pages in their fingers and inhale their scent. I can’t imagine the smell of paper ever losing its magic. What wonderful conduits for words.. thoughtings..

    “The sensation felt when touching paper differs from the coldness of metal or the perfection of plastic as it radiates a core warmth that we expect to come from a living object. Each fiber greets our hands in a comfortable, familiar tradition that we were introduced to as children, and constantly thereafter in school and at work. Most of the paper we use is bleached perfectly white with just enough texture to reliably meet the rubber rollers of a copy machine. Yet once in a while we are fortunate enough to encounter the kind of graphic design that not only visually stimulates, but that we can also taste with”
    The Reactive Square – John Maeda

    • gnunn

      It has always been a dream (and continues to be) of mine to own a book store. I have many that i love to haunt regularly, just browsing, flicking through page after page of text and image. No, the book will never lose its magic for me… Love that quote from John Maeda. So true… it really does come right back to our formative experiences as a child; being read to, the warmth and joy of that experience is something that I still treasure and in my work with young people try to recreate daily.

  3. ok, thought I’d better give this a try! it’s a really difficult question, I think, because it forces me to look at assumed or unconcious notions.

    certainly that it is a tangile object, something that can be held and lent to others.

    i have to think about it more!

  4. tiggy

    I agree, it is definitely a tough one. I guess though, we are creatures of habit, and so, having grown up with real books works in their favour. A real book is also a lot more convenient. Particularly if we think about reading to children. How would you even begin to create that special cuddle-book time reading from a laptop screen, or one of those new thingamejigs for downloading stories onto? As for the feel of the paper, my four month old already loves the feel (and sound, no doubt) of paper in his hands (albeit limited to used envelopes, not books). And as for keeping a book handy for when I’m feeding him, well…

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