WILL THE PHYSICALITY OF THE BOOK REMAIN IN OUR SOCIETY?

Written by Nicola Manuel

The library doors open and you are faced with a vast amount of books. Books that are so beautifully rested, calmly sat on the shelf waiting for that moment that your pair of hands will reassuringly hover and rest upon them. The front cover dances out at you, that friendly type and image playing visions round your head… That small taster of what could be within that book. The image plays wonders with your imagination, if the image is that good then the book should surely live up to that expectation that the cover deceives. Now take a step back out the doors, and re- enter with the vision that those shelves are filled with vast amounts of eBooks. It does not really work does it? Those slick pieces of technology would look so linear against each other, losing that lack of value and personality that is so importantly held within a book.

The New York TrilogyBook cover design by Nicola
The New York Trilogy
Book cover design by Nicola

The structure of the book has more recently adapted to change, but to what extent has its physicality remained within our society? There is an ominous shadow from new technology which steers itself over the object of the book in the form of an Ipad and Kindle. These have been a success; once one person owns a shiny new object then it is we, the consumers, who are soon to follow. This is always the way with something new and exciting, popular culture follows new technological advances as they benefit the majority of society. These new forms have been created to become substitutes of books, but I am here to tell you why I personally feel that although they will succeed, they will not remove the physicality of the book.

Our first obstacle is character, a book is really only held as a physical object. A piece of slick technology has nothing on an elegantly designed book. You would never find a kindle with an elegant spine, beautiful binding and a variety of paper that spins your head into imagination. With the character of the book you find the smell. Oh the smell, you just can not beat it. As you flick through the pages, getting deeper into the narrative that glorious smell dances around you. Even the smell of those loved second hand books are an extra value that you certainly would not find within new technology.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestFront cover design by Nicola
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Front cover design by Nicola

Next is the front cover. It really is an important factor no matter how many times the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ circulates the mind. Within my own practician I have found a new elevation in book cover design. I take the aspects of the narrative to create an image that will wet the appetite of the reader. By doing so I am able to create a piece of art within itself. For example through the creation of the book cover for ‘The New York Trilogy’ by Paul Auster, I used the pages from the book to reveal an identity for the cover. By compiling these I was able to create an image from the words within the novel.  I continued this way of working with my book cover for  ‘One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Ken Kesey, by taking myself away from my normal work space and responding to found items and photography that I took from an abandoned hospital, creating a body of work within itself. A book cover for me is something that needs to be created for people to appreciate and respond to.

From book covers I have also worked with artist’s books within my practician. They are a brilliant way of adapting the book form to release it from its original content, challenging my own concepts and visuals, which can be seen in my manifesto book. Within my manifesto I took found imagery and manipulated it through means of the computer to create a new set of images. It is also possible to obstruct the book form by depicting words from the book and using them to elevate a whole new concept, or to use the actual form as an appreciation to the cover or paper stock. Through the creation of the artist’s books we can see how artists have taken the book form and used it to its maximum potential from obstructing the size, shape, layout and content. There is a vast amount of variety, which visually does wonders for the eye.

It is through the artist’s book that the debate between hand craftsmanship and technology comes into action. Can you really create something of value through the means of technology? There are a huge variety of means to create something that is visually beautiful through the process of technology. It does put a stamp on the fact that anyone could possibly adapt to this way of working and produce mechanically comparing objects though. Through means of creating something by hand gives a real extra value, adding a uniqueness and wonder of its creation. This way of working was something that I responded to when creating a remake of the children’s book ‘The Three Little Pigs’. I drew from hand in the first stages, to then place the images onto a computer for the last, with finally binding the book by hand. Hand craftsmanship and technology is very much hand in hand with the book and kindle; they belong in an opposing battle with both of them obtaining a life span ahead of them.

Three Little Pigs remade pop - up book by Nicola
Three Little Pigs remade pop – up book by Nicola

So where does the physicality of the book stand in your life? Each book holds a certain value, and often reveals a story behind it depending on the location of purchase or a sentimental reason. Have a look through your bookshelf at home and see what surprises you may find. The main intention behind books was originally a source of knowledge, but it now partakes in a visual understanding with new doors being unlocked showing the release of the original form. So next time you are out shopping walk past that gadget shop, swiftly moving into a second hand book shop. See what surprises you may find and what stories you may unveil.

Taken from the Winchester Journals

by Nicola Manuel

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