Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Judging a Book by its Cover - Vintage 21st Delights

September again! The month of practicalities and new studies and beginning the factual filo-faxing of the year ahead.  New semester. New season. New me. But best of all - new books!

For all readers (or maybe just me) - September is a time for all kinds of book-buying. Stemming from the textbook new smell and feel-good freshness of new stationary of the whole back-to-school September schtik, embedded in the inner calendars of our mind, (well for me anyway!), reading comes back to the fore in September's newly darkened evenings.

Vintage books must surely have this in mind with the recent re-issuing of some of their classics to celebrate their 21st anniversary in publishing: luxurious vellum-velvet-to-the-touch covers in retro rainbow colours. I stumbled upon these treasure finds in a bookshop recently. Quelle surprise! of sapphire-blue dip-dyed pages and cover of Louis de Berniere's  'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', exotic magenta of AS Byatt's 'Possession', orange-red of Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale', blushed-pink of 'The Time-Traveller's Wife', lipstick red of 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and more, all the chosen colours somehow echoing some sense of the theme or style of the books themselves. 

Which reminds me of one of my surprising finds book-browsing in my university's library for a literature assignment once. There I stumbled upon what looked like a 1st edition of Shakespeare's sonnets - scarlet-red-hardback, bound together by fraying threads, and pages as yellow and browning as old newspapers with real vellum pages! I remember placing it in the photocopier like some precious manuscript from a museum, an authentic artifact of tradition uncovered in the jungle of dusty books that was the literature aisle.

Vintage's re-styling is another reminder to us that books - the  actual paper physical manifestations - are still way more coveted and appreciated than the cold metal screens of the iPad, Kindles and whatever other new-fangled digital doo-dahs there are. (I don't think you can source first editions  or the like on a screen...?)

There's nothing better than the bulky feel of a book in your hand, its bent spine a sign of significant page-turning, dog-ears a sign of fondness and word-wallowing, yellowed pages a mark of its classic status, the slightly musty smell like wisdom, and the discovering of all the secret pleasures of solitude uncovering its secrets and significance.  

How can a steel cold square of an iPad or Reader beat that? Books have personality and character, these devices don't. And my favourite part of reading - underlining and scribbling passages of interest, passages read over and over, that rise like gold from the text and settle into the muddy waters of daily mundane routine, to glint and gleam and remind us of the real treasures in life - how can this be made tangible by a Reader? 

I was a slow reader when I was young, speed-wise. When my friends and I used to have multiple read-offs (started by my one of my friend's discovery of the unputdownable then en-vogue teenage novels 'Point Horrors' from the States), to test each other's reading powers by seeing who would be finished first to be rewarded by the  first-pick of the next book swap, I would always be last. It was pointed out to me when I was caught pondering over the same page for around 10 minutes before moving on - the words were so precise, the sentences so neatly clicked into place to create an aha moment of revelation - how could I move on? I was transfixed by the typeface, the printed proof. I wanted to memorize it and let it melt into my mind. 

With a book, you can do that. You can linger and loiter as long as you like, flick back and forth through pages at your ease, savouring the soft paper feel, whereas the blank glare of a iPad pushes you on, demands you keep going, with no old-skool way of marking the meaningful stuff, putting your own little stamp of presence on the book.

Maybe these new editions constitutes an attempt by Vintage to fly the flag for the physical book, the look and feel and smell and touch of it, to up the style stakes, snazz it up, jazz it up for the aesthetic battle between books and technology!

See details of the re-issued titles here

Happy reading!



  1. Siobhan this was delicious and evoked pleasant memories of holding a new-to-be-read book in my hand! Thank you for this reminder of the joy and tactile sensuality of words to print on paper books. Margie

  2. Thank you Margie, for your always encouraging comments!


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