Recently it was revealed that ebook sales, once booming, have now slumped considerably. Simultaneously, more consumer interest is being shown in traditional printed books. In an article titled “How eBooks Lost their Shine” which you can find here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/27/how-ebooks-lost-their-shine-kindles-look-clunky-unhip- Paula Cocozza examines why this might have come about. She suggests that you just can’t do all the tangible things like dog-earing a page, or cracking a spine with an ebook, that ebooks are becoming more expensive and thus not worth it, and that things like children’s books just tend not to work as well in ebook form.
But one aspect which I found particularly engaging about her argument was her hypothesis that ebooks simply can’t be as beautiful as their printed counterpart. Cocozza writes “Another thing that has happened is that books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty.” She emphasises that the cover art, the font, even the binding, can be things of great aesthetic joy; something an ebook could simply never achieve.
While the criticism and dialogue surrounding books tends to focus on what’s inside the cover and what is typed across the pages, Cocozza reminds us that what’s on the outside, this time, does in fact count. The visual appeal of the book is something we experience, in different measures of consciousness, each time we pick it up, open it, close it, and put it down again (despite the often long period of not putting it down in between).
The physical cover of a book is something that can be incredibly striking and meaningful, and this new appreciation of printed books and their clothing is encouraging us to finally allow ourselves to judge a book by its cover.
Social media is certainly on the bandwagon. In fact, there are whole Instagram pages dedicated to displaying the beauty of bookcases, reading nooks and books themselves.
On the gorgeous page Foldenpagesdistillery (https://www.instagram.com/foldedpagesdistillery/) books (always closed and with their covers on display) are integrated into carefully constructed scenes. The backgrounds tend to either mimic the setting or themes of the book itself, as with the tartan and rustic items surrounding Outlander by Diana Gabaldon below…
Or create a setting which evokes the act of reading itself, the space adorned with flowers, hot cups of tea and reading paraphernalia, like notebooks and glasses.
The colours and shapes of the cover art are mirrored in the surrounding elements of the photo. Here the significance of the cover is truly recognised and considered. It’s not just the ideas inside the book that are important, but also its physical form.
The page Bookotter (https://www.instagram.com/bookotter/) is full of character and similarly adorns the book with objects which relate to its fictional world, reconstructing the narrative in real life objects and images. Again the images and colour scheme of the cover art are mimicked in the surrounding objects, like the wooden board that pairs with the hazel eye, or the pink flowers that match the titular font. This page often brings the natural world, usually in the shape of plants, into shots like this one:
Another breathtaking page is OliverSkyWolf (https://www.instagram.com/oliverskywolf/) who seems to forever walk around with a book held out in front of him. He captures striking scenes, again often within nature, where the backgrounds imitate the colours and resonances of the book’s cover.
Like this one for example:
On these Instagram pages book covers integrate themselves into our world, and the foreground book and background world interact with each other through colours, shading, shapes and feeling. The books come to life in a setting which expands the cover into life itself.
In our evermore visual world of social media, so dominated by the immediate distribution of images, it makes perfect sense that Instagram pages like these ones have come to revel in the physicality, the aesthetics and the beauty of the book.
And it’s not just the book itself, its the whole library. A Buzzfeed article simply lists images of beautiful home libraries – https://www.buzzfeed.com/tabathaleggett/home-libraries-that-will-give-you-serious-living-room-goals?utm_term=.tpn0KrXBG#.qj56rbvw7
And they are stunningly beautiful. These home-decorators have used their books to decorate and embellish their rooms. Something I noticed about these different rooms is that without the books it would just be a fairly ordinary space. A lounge room, a bedroom, a study. But in these spaces the books are the focus, their arrangement on the shelves is not just storage, it is expression and style. The delicate shaping of the shelves, the use of light and focus, the arch over the reading chair – all these techniques take books as a design tool in their own right, as pieces of art.
There are multiple methods by which books are displayed – by author, by genre, or the beautifully visual choice of by colour. My personal favourite is the colour-coded wall below, designed by 7 Interiors. It’s so beautiful I can feel tears welling up. I mean who needs art when you have a bookshelf like this?
I thought about my own apartment and the time I’d spent making my bookshelf look good. And actually, I realised, I’d spent probably the most time of all decorating that one small space, figuring out how to separate the books, how to display them, and which ornaments to adorn them with. Two of my favourite things in the apartment sit on top of my bookcase: my fern and my typewriter. It’s the area that I think looks the best in my whole apartment, and while I would like to take the credit for the breathtaking decorative skill, I’m sure about 90% of any aesthetic beauty is simply down to the books themselves, their colours, shapes and images.
There’s something very special about cover art that takes what a book is about and means and reconstructs it into a 2D image. It must be eye-catching and different. It must be commercial but also aesthetic. It must fit the genre and style but also make its mark so that particular book will standout. It’s a complicated process. The clothing that a book wears can become a work of art in itself, visually stunning and semiotically loaded.
With the decline of ebooks, and the resurgence of printed books, coupled with the highly visual, online culture we live in, this really is the time to appreciate and explore the beauty of our bookshelves. And even better, we now have yet another reason to keep buying books: they’re great for decoration.