Innovative Book Designs
November 1, 2009 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Innovative Books: I am looking to compile a list of the most innovative uses of the book format. Books that break the mould in their layout and design, perhaps books that use online systems to extend their content value or push their form into new places. I am most interested in narrative and theory, but any book that is interesting (artist books etc.) would be really appreciated.

I have a few examples, in order of publication, to set the ball rolling:

Compendium for literates : a system of writing by Karl Gerstner - A book about book form in an innovative form. Beautiful and still fresh

Dictionary of the Khazars: a lexicon novel in 100,000 words by Pavic - a 'dictionary novel' "written in two versions, male and female, which are identical save for seventeen crucial lines"

A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel by Tom Philips - an artist who has used one particular edition of one particular book as a space for his work for many years

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larson - extended use of footnote, side-note and illustration to give the narrative dimension

I would love any ideas you have!
posted by 0bvious to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: B.S. Johnson, The Unfortunates.
posted by greycap at 4:47 AM on November 1, 2009

The first one that came to my mind was Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine. Also, Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.
posted by saucysault at 5:00 AM on November 1, 2009

Best answer: Not just The Unfortunates, but pretty much anything by B.S. Johnson is worth a look. In Albert Angelo, there is a section around page 151 where there is an actual hole cut in several pages, letting the reader see text from further in the book.

There's a lot of creative use of design in Shane Claiborne's Jesus for President, which has been very influential in emergent/progressive Christians circles.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:18 AM on November 1, 2009

Nabokov's Pale Fire may or may not be relevant to your interests.
posted by schmichael at 5:38 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Depending on how serious and/or non-commercial you want to get, you might want to talk to someone who curates (or has heavily prowled) an artists' books collection. Here in Chicago, there's the Joan Flasch collection, which includes some pretty wild stuff: example, example, example.

On the mass-produced side:

A few issues of McSweeney's might fit in.. #7 for instance, where the book entails a cover that houses a bunch of small paperback books.

Art Spiegelman's children's book Open Me... I'm a Dog adds a leash to the cover and presents itself as a dog that has been cursed to be a book. Which is pretty simple, but freaking awesome.
posted by pokermonk at 5:41 AM on November 1, 2009

Book is a sketchbook sent backwards n forwards between four artists - two in the US and two in Ireland, over a period of almost a year.

As well as being a beautiful 'story' in itself, the artwork is amazing.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:43 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves.
posted by Perplexity at 6:15 AM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Graham Rawle's collage-novel Woman's World.
posted by misteraitch at 6:20 AM on November 1, 2009

House of Leaves (extended footnotes, colored text, unique layout, etc) and Only Revolutions (two mirrored narratives, one male, one female, read from front to back and back to front respectively, they meet in the middle), both by Mark Danielewski, are right up your alley.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:31 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Telephone Book
The Cheese Monkeys (link is to the hardcover; the paperback may be less crazily designed)
Our Ecstatic Days has a separate text threaded through the middle of the pages.
posted by dfan at 6:39 AM on November 1, 2009

Best answer: Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry has facinated me since I read it about a month ago--both for the creative process that must have gone into creating this book (a portrait of a relationship, from first meeting through its ending, told completely through the format of an auction catalog) to the pieces of the characters that are revealed bit by bit throughout the book. I find that I'm still thinking about these (fictional) people.
posted by bookmammal at 6:53 AM on November 1, 2009

Response by poster: Some great stuff here, some I know and lots I don't, thanks. Does anyone know any internet mediated examples? I'm not sure whether I mean 'only exists online' or anything like that, but I am sure I have heard of books that allow their content to leak out into webspaces.

Any ideas?
posted by 0bvious at 7:04 AM on November 1, 2009

Shelter is a pretty amazing book. Kind of like a scrapbook about houses. It's also very large.

The Whole Earth Catalog, maybe?
posted by sully75 at 7:14 AM on November 1, 2009

Best answer: I think you might like Brian Dettmer's Book Autopsies.
posted by nickjadlowe at 7:28 AM on November 1, 2009

I found Cathy's Key and the sequels to be really innovative. My students loved them too.
posted by CdnMathTeacher at 7:57 AM on November 1, 2009
posted by carsonb at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2009

Codex Seraphinianus. It "appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, a thus-far undeciphered alphabetic writing."

It's great.
posted by Flunkie at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The more appropriate link for Brian Dettmer's work. Sorry about that.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2009

Pamela Anderson's Star had a reversible jacket--one side was pink with a star on it and the other side was a fully nude shot that could either be the jacket or a poster (NYT article). Another more recent book about keeping your sex life hot years into marriage also had a reversible jacket, and the other side was something like "Theories of early childhood education" or something, to keep kids from reading it (Google fails me here).

There's also the Vook, from the company of the same name that has partnered with both Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins to release web or iPhone based books that partner video and text content into a cohesive story line. Some of these are original and some are abridged from physical books.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:35 AM on November 1, 2009

The House of Leaves article links to an interesting page called ergodic literature that seems to describe what you're looking for. Under the "internet related examples" it lists MUD/MUSH/MOOs.
posted by shii at 9:37 AM on November 1, 2009

Of possible interest might be the kid's book series 39 Clues which extends the story through collectible cards and online content.
posted by wsquared at 9:58 AM on November 1, 2009

A few years ago published an online novel called The Unbinding that was written in real time and incorporated a lot of web links. I'm not sure if it's available online anymore, but apparently it was later published in paper back. I haven't read it yet, but Joan Wickersham's The Suicide Index may also interest you.
posted by lilac girl at 10:12 AM on November 1, 2009

Ooh, goody, another Graham Rawle book - I'm very familiar with his marvellous Diary of an Amateur Photographer.

Also, Alasdair Gray?
posted by Grangousier at 10:54 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Margaret Atwood's new book, year of the flood, has a web interaction component and a cd
posted by bananafish at 11:11 AM on November 1, 2009

Raw Shark Texts does something pretty innovative a quarter of the way through.
posted by Brainy at 12:06 PM on November 1, 2009

Best answer: Here's an internet-mediated adaptation of a book: The Book of Sand

You might also be interested in the academic of work of N. Katherine Hayles, particularly her book Writing Machines, which has an online supplement. It's a few years old, and it does feel a bit dated, but the book provides a good introduction to some of the issues that come up when book arts and digital media intertwine. It's an attempt to both comment on and participate in that world, which is a laudable thing.

Also, check out the "Book Arts Web." The mailing list there is a great resource.
posted by dizziest at 12:50 PM on November 1, 2009

Response by poster: I want to mark all the answers as the best answer, thanks so much. I have used some of these examples in an article I have written, to be published at 3quarksdaily tomorrow. In praise of you all.
posted by 0bvious at 1:07 PM on November 1, 2009

I haven't read it yet, but Personal Effects: Dark Art by J. C. Hutchins has a lot of neat tricks. For example, if you call the phone numbers in the book, you get the character's voicemail. It looks like it's all in service of making the story more immersive.
posted by JDHarper at 7:31 PM on November 1, 2009

From a pure physical design perspective, how cool is thermo-reactive ink? Well Done is the annual report of a European food company, a portion of which appears blank until baked - released before cooking the books seemed more comic than tragic, I guess.
posted by yamel at 2:17 AM on November 2, 2009

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