Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is It the Book—Or the Dust Jacket?

Is It the Book—Or the Dust Jacket?

For some of us, there are items or activities that arouse our ardor—certain things about which we wax poetic and declare an undying dedication normally reserved for family or country. For some it may be fine cheeses, for others it is scented candles, and—for the pitiable few—stamp collecting.

But I've been wondering—to what extent is it the "thing" we love, and to what extent is it the effects with which we surround that "thing?"

An example. I like bourbon. I actually like the taste of bourbon (though I won't deny the effect has some attraction, too).

But the way I like to have my bourbon matters, too. I like to have it at home—in my library—in a crystal tumbler specifically for the purpose. The play of light through the tawny liquid and through the many facets of the cut lead crystal glass. The satisfying squeak and subtle pop of the cork. Hell, I even like being able to say, "I'm a bourbon man." Are these things—these trappings—the better part of my fondness for bourbon?

Now, the chief reason I've been wondering about this is how I make my living. You see, I make books. Well, to be perfectly honest, I manage the people who work in a plant that makes the books. (But, hell, I like to be able to say, "I'm a book man.") 

Not surprisingly, I've got my own collection of books—my library. Some are antiques, some are signed copies—quite possibly some are even of value as collectibles. It's safe to say that I can appreciate, probably more than most, the physical attributes of a really well made book. (I'll even read one now and again.)

But what might surprise people to learn—I've got no real objections to the growing phenomenon of e-books. (Mind you, I don't actually own any e-books. After all, I'm not stupid—I know where my paycheck comes from.)

Unlike many ardent "readers" I know, I would not insist I've simply got to crack open the binding and feel the grain of the paper, the flipping sound of the pages, to fully derive the pleasure of a good read. I know there is the work, and there is the book, and the two are separate. I can appreciate the qualities of a well-made book as I might appreciate the qualities of any well-made piece of work. But that appreciation is separate from my appreciation of what is contained in the book—what is captured on the pages. After all, we read the words and not the pages.

Very often, I hear people defending—to me, as if to mollify me about the impending demise of my industry—their fixation with the tactile experience associated with reading an actual, physical book. They'll speak of holding a tome of some heft in their hand, curling up in a favorite chair, dog earing the pages (which is like nails on a chalkboard to me). These are all wonderful attributes associated with the act of reading a physical book, and I applaud along with you. But let's not forget--these are the trappings of reading, and not the "stuff" of reading.

In my work, we produce the books themselves. And we also produce the dust jackets that wrap around the books (which have an expected life span of roughly three days after purchase). The cloth covers that go on these books—the "casesides," we call them—are often simple constructions of cardboard, glue, and fabric or paper. It's the dust jackets where all the embellishments—the foil stamping and embossing and die cuts and spot glosses—are put. 

The dust jacket presents all the lush trappings one associates with a bestselling book. But don't forget—the book is inside the dust jacket. Don't ever confuse the two.

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