Wednesday 7 November 2012

Books on Books on Books

"Often I have slipped away from picnics and birthday parties and children’s soccer games and awards ceremonies to squeeze in a bit of reading while concealed in a copse, a garage, a thicket, or a deserted gazebo. For me, books have always been a safety valve, and in some cases— when a book materializes out of nowhere in a situation where it is least expected—a deus ex machina. Books are a way of saying: This room seems to have more than its fair share of bozos in it. Edith Wharton may be dead, but she’s still better company than these palookas."

A subdued but still eye-catching cover, designer unknown.

A fine new entry in the field of books about books with lots of books on the cover is Joe Queenan's semi-autobiography/essay collection One for the Books. I've long enjoyed his film writing--often hilarious pieces where he does things like being Mickey Rourke for a day, or floats in the icy Atlantic to see if you really can deliver all of dying-Leonardo-di-Caprio's lines from the end of Titanic without freezing to death first. While frequently funny, One for the Books also has a surprisingly elegiac quality--Queenan is a committed real paper book man, and sees that industry withering at the hands of e-readers, and he has a cold-eyed and realistic view of how many years he might have left to live, and how many books will still be waiting unread in the piles when his time is up.

"Hardcover books of yesteryear often had an off-putting, ominous quality; it is entirely possible that their harsh, imperious covers were designed to intimidate the public [...] It was as if publishers wanted to sell books exclusively to readers who would know what to do with them. This policy is now a thing of the past. When Howard Stern’s autobiography was published, in 1993, I saw a man walking down Fifth Avenue who manifestly was not sure how one went about holding a book. Its inscrutable rectangularity perplexed him. He wasn’t sure whether to stuff it under his arm or cradle it like a football. His maiden voyage on the sea of literacy had not prepared him for this daunting adventure; the book-maneuvering skills most of us acquire relatively early in life, via Richard Scarry or Judy Blume, were not available to him. There is no telling what happened when the poor man opened the book and found that it contained words."

The essays, many published previously in magazine form, do create a mosaic-form autobiography of a pretty enviable life, once Queenan was able to get away from his parents. And the man has excellent taste in books, which is always a relief.

"I have rarely been treated especially well in bookstores. I think this is because I do not look like a book lover. I look more like a cop. I certainly do not look like the kind of person who frequents serious cultural establishments. What it all comes down to is this: I do not look like I have ever read a book by Bill McKibben. Though it pains me to admit it, I look like somebody who can’t make up his mind whether to buy the new Clive Cussler or the new W. E. B. Griffin. Bookstore personnel pick up on this."

A book due out early next year that also makes use of many books on its cover is Ron Currie, Jr.'s Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. I especially like the way all the cover text is incorporated into smaller covers and spines, and that all these covers were created by the designer, rather than using a straightforward photo of existing books. It reminds me of these designs.


vic caswell said...

whoah! that second one! <3!

JRSM said...

It's really nice, isn't it?

vic caswell said...

it's unique. and there was a lot of thought and time put into it. but still classy.
i'm a fan.