Friday, August 31, 2012

Beautiful Books

by Joanne Kennedy
I love books. Especially old books.I love corner bookstores, boxes of books in dusty attics, and the smell of ink and paper. I love the heft of a big book in my hands, the riffling of pages, the feeling of discovery as you open to the first page, and the look of a well-stocked library. Anthony Powell was right: Books do make a room.

E-books are great for both readers and writers. But as bookstores close and publishers struggle, I wish publishers would take a step back in time and capitalize on the qualities people have always loved in books—the qualities nookbooks and Kindle editions just can't replicate. There’s no point in competing with e-publishers to make books that are cheaper, less cumbersome to carry, or easier to distribute. So why not make them beautiful?

Wouldn't it be great if we brought back the days when books had beautiful leather bindings and marbled endpapers; gilt decorated covers and quaint illustrations pasted on the front?. I owned a used bookstore years ago, and as you can see there were quite a few finds I couldn’t bear to sell. I held on to some favorite novels in gilt-decorated editions; lots of beautifully illustrated animal books, and of course a collection of old horse training manuals to feed my cowboy obsession.

Back in the golden age of publishing, the book itself was a work of art. Novels were often illustrated, and I wish that would come back into fashion. Dickens was brought to life by “Phiz.” Mark Twain’s characters were visualized by E.W. Kemble, and children’s books had memorable illustrations by A.B. Frost, Arthur Rackham, and other forgotten artists.

I think today’s readers would welcome beautiful books into their lives. And what better recommendation could there be for a novel than for a publisher to put out a keepsake edition, artfully printed and gloriously illustrated? Yes, it would be expensive. But I’d gladly pay a premium for a fine edition of the books I consider “keepers.”

Do you have a particularly beautiful book you treasure? What books would you like to have in a deluxe illustrated edition?


  1. That is an interesting question! When cars came on the scene, the companies that made buggy whips by and large disappeared, until there were just a few. Those few made the most gorgeous, elegant, durable, buggy whips. They made the connoisseur's buggy whip and they're still in business.

    My connoisseur's reads would be Mary Balogh's Slightly series. They are beautiful, beautiful stories, the apotheosis of a romance series, and I'd love to have them leather bound.

  2. Joanne,
    I agree with you. I would pay more for a keepsake book. I've often found old books at estates sales. My favorite finds are a 1945 copy of "Pride and Prejudice" with illustrations & a second edition of "Jane Eyre". Then we also have a cool illustrated copy of "Aesop's Fables" that belonged to my husband before we married. I'm not sure where he found it.

  3. Love your post today. Books have played such a big part in our lives and in raising our kids. We decided early on to raise them without television so the library knew us quite well.
    Our bookcases are full of treasures. Some are probably worthless on the market but we love them anyway. There is an original 1950 copy of The Enduring Hills by Janice Holt Giles on it and a 1945 first edition of Cass Timberlane by Sinclair Lewis. Neither are the brightest or the most beautiful children on the bookcase and their pages are getting pretty fragile, but they are two of our keepers!

  4. That's so true, Grace. I'm kind of surprised there hasn't been a resurgence of "art publishing."

    I'll have to try that Mary Balogh series if you recommend it.

  5. Oooh, Samantha - nice books! I love the Brontes, and have old editions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights when the authors were still listed as "Currer Bell" and "Ellis Bell." They're not very pretty and have obviously been read many times, but they're still treasures!

  6. Carolyn, we really were separated at birth! I'm a believer in no TV for kids, too. I didn't have one for years.
    I hadn't thought about Janice Holt Giles in ages. Was she your inspiration for your historicals?

  7. I have a couple of old first editions I treasure, one is of a Julie Garwood book. I like Grace's comment. I think only the most beautiful covers will survive. I already see a lot of competition for beautiful, intriguing covers.

  8. Oh, that's exactly how I feel about books! When I worked I belonged to a book club of 100 Greatest Books (or was it 500 lol). They are leather with the gilt covers and pages. Unfortunately, I didn't get to buy all of them because I had to stop when I quit working but I really treasure them. I use to have them displayed better than now because I have animals and I don't want to take any chances with them but they are high up in my bookshelves and I take one out periodically like an old friend.

  9. I have a copy of Lord of the Rings that my husband gave me for Christmas a long time ago. It isn't an antique (yet) but it's a beautiful book. I'd like to have a "deluxe" version of Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. I've probably read and reread those books more than any others.

  10. I love beautifully embossed leather books with the nice ribbons for marking one's place (given my propensity for losing bookmarks, it's nice to have one that's attached to the book). I used to love visiting the wonderful oversized books such as Audobon's prints that were available in the Special Collections room of the library I used to work at but I don't have many 'fancy' books of my own (I have a quantity over quality collection, lol).