Books as Objects of Beauty

At least half of my reading nowadays is e-books, usually downloaded from NetGalley and Edelweiss and read on my Kindle. All the same, I still love the feel and smell of paper books, and it’s a special treat when the books are things of beauty in their own right. A few books I’ve reviewed recently have been absolutely stunning physical objects. Here are some photographs and a rundown of their key attributes:

The Water Book by Alok Jha – Just look at that gorgeous, shiny cover! I was less taken with the contents of the book itself, but never mind. (My review is forthcoming at Nudge.)

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Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman – Embossed embroidery effect on the cover, handwriting and sketches (including the only known C. Brontë self-portrait, only recently identified) on the endpapers, and built-in ribbon bookmark. (My review will go up at For Books’ Sake on Wednesday.)

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A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James – The dustjacket of this Booker Prize winner is lovely enough, but take it off and you still hold a striking object, in appropriately Rastafarian colors. (Full review in December issue of Third Way magazine.)

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Ruins by Peter Kuper – Embossed title on the cover, with the monarch in matte; entomological drawings on the endpapers; alternating monochrome and full-color sequences; plus a built-in ribbon bookmark. (To be reviewed here in the near future.)

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To survive in this modern age, physical books have to be more than just words on a page, because e-books do that much more efficiently. They simply have to be beautiful.


What are some of the most eye-catching books you’ve encountered recently?

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11 thoughts on “Books as Objects of Beauty

  1. I’m always surprised at how many people seem to go into a book shop and choose a book because of the ‘artwork’.
    I read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street recently and I have to say the cover was the best part of the book which was pretty poor.
    My favourite though is Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis – cover is really cleverly done and the book is good too!

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  2. I’m absolutely OK with books being ‘just words on a page’, because I can’t get on with e-books at all. I can see their use on holidays and so forth, but can’t wait to get back to ‘real’ books. Mind you, a handsome type face and eye-catching cover works wonders too: though I hope I’d never choose a book simply on the strength of its cover.

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    1. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve come to love my e-readers (I started with a Nook two years ago and now also have a Kindle on permanent loan for reviewing purposes). I never thought I’d take to them. Perhaps a subject for another post…

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  3. I still dislike reading books on a screen – it spoils my enjoyment of all the tactile and visual stimuli that even a battered old paperback provides. I’m also a sucker for a lovely cover and have bought many books by being lured by their covers hoping that the contents will be equal (beautiful endpapers reinforce that). Shallow, moi?

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    1. I was kind of forced into digital books through my reviewing work for American companies: the only way I could work for them was if I would review PDF and ePUB files. But I’ve really taken to reading e-books over the last two years, more than I ever would have expected. That’s not to say I don’t still love the smell and feel of real books, and the experience of browsing shelves in bookshops.

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