Wednesday, 4 March 2015

You can’t smoke a book by its cover

Looking through the short story collection in my local library (a dispiriting, disheartening exercise unless you are after the collected works of Paul Theroux or Philip Hensher) I came across Ten Stories About Smoking by Stuart Evers. Intrigued, I pulled it out to discover the book had been designed to resemble a cigarette pack. The hardcover opens at the top to reveal an inner paperback (with cigarettes cover) which you pull out.

I can't remember the last time I enjoying the physcial act of reading like I did with this book. To sit on a train and pull out my giant pack of fags was (for a former smoker) deeply satisfying. The only down side was that, by the time I had finished the book, I was actually fancying having a cigarette for the first time in 15 years.

The stories themselves were good, written in minimalist Carveresque style (though any similarities with the great American writer end there). The smoking link was tenuous at best. With concept packaging like that, I would hope for smoking to play a more central role as metaphor, rather than characters randomly lighting up.

But small quibbles: I liked the book and the design did enhanced the quality of my reading experience. It has taken some flack for being too much of a  "gimmick" to which I say: yes, and a good one, and why the hell not. I would happily buy this kind of gimmick over the tedious straight jacket of genre cover designs any day --the perky typeface and pink high heeled shoe of women's fiction covers or the blurry figure in the distant mist of a mystery novel. The design and feel of a book make a huge difference to the pleasure of the reading experience. Which is why hardcovers are bliss --the very act of cracking them open, the thick pages, the lovely typeface. And mass produced knock off copies of "The Classics" in blurry point 9 go straight to the Charity Shop.

In an era of downloads and kindles, book design should look to be interesting and engaging and daring.

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