Books Beyond Words

Once in the long forgotten history of publishing, all copies of books were painstakingly hand copied, and the long suffering scribes added beauty and made each copy unique by adding what is called illumination to the text.  These consisted of little illustrations for the leading capitals and chapter headers and often decorations in the margins and full page illustrations.  Each book was beautiful and unique.

With the advent of the printing press, books were often decorated with engraved wood images, but the type became more standard, making each book in a given print run more like its fellows. Then came more advanced presses that allowed images to be put to film and imaged onto printing plates that controlled the flow of ink to the paper, allowing greater and greater creativity in the presentation of finished publications.

In this modern era, the customer’s budget is the limit to what can be done on paper, but for the most part, books—at least the ones that rely predominantly on words to convey a message—are still boring black type on white paper. But book designers are branching out, putting more creativity into flowing that story from page to page.

It’s fun to show examples, and so I can’t help but point out a couple of the books in the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. These non-illustrated, young adult novels are what they appear—pages and pages of black type on white paper. I don’t find such a thing boring because the words themselves take you far away from the paper into a world far more colorful that the printed page. But a couple things about the production of these books caught my appreciation as a publication designer.

FIrst off, I was impressed that Bella, Edward, and even Jacob each have their own handwriting. Eclipse is the novel where this is most seen. First in Jacob’s scratched out notes at the very beginning (click on the link to see it in the sample)—complete with ink blotches—and later on in a written conversation between Edward and Bella. All three were accomplished with fun handwritten fonts that communicated something about each character.  I can’t say this is the first time this has been done, but it was the first time it caught my attention and hence my appreciation.

The other thing that incited a laugh of appreciation out of me—even though it came at a very serious point in the series—were the blank pages listing the months as Bella suffered through her pain of loss in New Moon. This technique drew great attention to the passage of time where Bella’s mind and heart were overpowered by grief, and she was unable to tell her story. I’m sure this was the author’s idea from the beginning, but I’m appreciative of the publisher for allowing the “waste” of pages. This is still my favorite part of the book because it says so  much with an almost blank page. Something similar was done in The Princess Bride (the book, not the movie—if you haven’t read it, you haven’t really experienced the story), and I loved it then as well.

Another book that caught my appreciation many years ago was The Neverending Story with its red and green type.  I read that book so long ago that I don’t even remember the story all that well, but the transition between the worlds using different colored inks really stuck in my mind. If I remember right, the edition that I read was in and off itself quite beautiful, masquerading in real life the book that Bastian is described reading in the story. It was easy to get sucked in and that was, after all, the object of the book—to make you feel part of the story.

If you have favorite novels that subtly break the mold of black type on white pages, feel free to comment. I’d love to experience more examples of fun presentations of text.

And don’t forget to visit my portfolio.  I’m available to apply some of these exciting techniques to your publications.  Contact me today for a bid on your next book—because your publication deserves a design that respects your message.

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