Help me find books that are made as nicely as they're written.
January 23, 2005 4:05 PM   Subscribe

BookBindingFilter: I greatly enjoyed reading this edition of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Some of the enjoyment was doubtless due to Tolkien's deathless prose, but I was surprised to find myself also enjoying handling, looking at, poring over a really beautifully crafted edition, with careful binding, stuck-together pages, a little built-in bookmark, etc.

Can anyone suggest other books I might like for these same reasons? Genre's not important; I'm a cheerful omnilege.
posted by ikkyu2 to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Many fantasy books (of the bigger authors) have a limited edition - often signed.

I don't know if this is the press, but they have some of the books I think you'll want.

OCP Main
posted by filmgeek at 4:09 PM on January 23, 2005

You might enjoy browsing Subterranenan Press; they do some amazing editions.

And no doubt you'd appreciate one of these.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:39 PM on January 23, 2005

This looks pretty nice. I'm reading the poor man's version now; $200 was a bit out of my price range.
posted by sanko at 4:39 PM on January 23, 2005

I can't recommend "Lichens of North America" highly enough, it's gorgeous.
Although I admit the subject matter may be a bit esoteric.

I am also fond of a big ol' unabridged shakespeare, but I can't figure out which one it is on amazon, it's probably not expensive, but it's always nice to have a good volume of the bard around.
posted by milovoo at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2005

I've always been struck by the quality of the hardback Harry Potter books (U.S. edition). Seriously. Particularly the paper which is heavy, smooth and creamy. I wish all books were printed on this stuff. To discover it in a mass-market childrens' book is an unexpected delight. (No leather binding, bookmarks or other special features though).
posted by zanni at 5:20 PM on January 23, 2005

I was given Dave Eggers' How We Are Hungry for christmas, and without getting into the content proper, it's one of the most beautiful books I've ever owned... it really is a pleasure to hold. YM of course MV.
posted by cmyr at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2005

The most attractive hardcovers I own are Neal Stephenson's recent Baroque Cycle. The paper is more off-white than most, the fonts are fetching and distinctive (because its historical fiction; they're still totally readable), the binding is invincible. Also, major visual elements, like the title on the cover, are done by actual graphic artists... they don't just pick an appropriate font and center it... individual letters are tweaked to match the elegant (Baroque!) tone of the books.

Plus, the chapters run together without pagebreaks (there's plenty of spacing, its not weird), which removes the tiny pyschological interruption of seeing a brilliant block of white at various cliffhangers of the plot; its one less distraction from your engrossed mental state ("ludic reading"). Its like the difference between playing single-player Quake and single-player Half-Life... Half-Life intentionally has no distinct levels, and the game never removes you from its universe... the fourth wall is never breached. This is supposed to be a major reason for its famously entrancing game experience.
posted by gsteff at 6:35 PM on January 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

you could check out Easton Press who create leather editions of several books. Not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but it's the only one I know who is doing this for current titles.
posted by rodz at 6:36 PM on January 23, 2005

It sounds like you might like a goodly amount of the hardback books put out by the friendly folks at McSweeney's. I, for one, appreciate the loveliness of Your Disgusting Head. Mcsweeney's puts a lot of attention and care into their releases, and I love that I can spot one on the shelf merely by the fact that they look better than all the other books.
posted by redsparkler at 6:39 PM on January 23, 2005

Go to your local absolutely awesome used-book store and see if they have any books by Cheap Street Press. (They're no longer publishing, and the owners are actually, unfortunately, no longer around. Their collection is now at the Tulane Special Collections library.) Anyway, Cheap Street books are GORGEOUS (not cheap) signed/numbered/limited editions, all sf/fantasy.
posted by oldtimey at 7:40 PM on January 23, 2005

This is one of my favorites.
posted by JeffL at 8:47 PM on January 23, 2005

I'm pretty sure everything in the Everyman's Library by Knopf fits the description, but don't hold me to it.
posted by stopgap at 9:05 PM on January 23, 2005

I have a leather-bound edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books (can't find a link, but saw one the other day at Waldenbooks) which is quite impressive.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:37 PM on January 23, 2005

The most beautiful book I've ever seen (and own!) is the Codex Seraphinianus. Some pix available here.

I was surprised, reading the purple edition of Isham's "Modern differential geometry for physicists", how much it more pleasant it was to read due to the typeface being really big. (I don't wear glasses.)
posted by Aknaton at 4:20 AM on January 24, 2005

I second the Baroque Cycle--it's rare to see a book with such a large print run get such a beautiful design.

Other nicely-designed books--these may be out of print, but easily found at used-book shops online:

Thomas Pynchon--Mason and Dixon. As nice as the Baroque Cycle books are, I prefer Mason and Dixon to them, just because of the gigantic ampersand that decorates the cover.

The Allen Lane edition of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (edited by David Womersley; 3 vol.) Designed for easy reading of a difficult text--a gloss of the narrative runs in the margins, slightly inset into the body of the text at the points where new events occur. Penguin released it in the US as a paperback.

The Holy Bible, illustrated by Barry Moser. Moser works entirely in engravings and woodcuts, and this Bible has over 200 illustrations, many of which fill a full 8-by-12 page. Moser's illustrations have a sly sense of humor to them without being irreverent--his Abraham recalls the 1960's Sean Connery, and in his engraving of Jacob wrestling with the angel, it's unclear whether Jacob is grappling with an angel or just a large rock. Viking Studio released a hardcover edition that sold for $65 (and was worth far more); I haven't seen that one for sale in a while, but I remember seeing a paperback edition.

The McSweeney's edition of William Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down is an amazing feat of typography.
posted by Prospero at 5:30 AM on January 24, 2005

I second the recommendation for the Codex Seraphinianus: this and other books from the same publisher (Franco Maria Ricci) are almost always very beautifully made, though by no means are they always worth the high asking price.

There's an edition of a novel called The Castle of Argol by the French novelist Julien Gracq, published by the Lapis Press, which struck me as much as a lovely object as a lovely text.

It might be worth your while checking out The Folio Society. They're a book club who do their own (often illustrated) editions of classic books, with an emphasis on fine bindings, etc. If enough of their titles appeal to you, then they're well worth joining for a year or two.
posted by misteraitch at 6:11 AM on January 24, 2005

Interesting that you like the "stuck together pages." I prefer sewn binding which allows the book to lie flat without breaking the binding. Unfortunately it is falling out of fashion (I assume, due to the expense) and only McSweeney's does it consistently, as far as I know.
posted by scazza at 9:35 AM on January 24, 2005

OOOh also, the Columbia Center for Book and Paper Arts is a superb place. I once saw an exhibit of Jewish marriage contracts and the intricacies were beautiful. They have classes, too.
posted by scazza at 9:43 AM on January 24, 2005

Response by poster: I actually don't so much like that the pages are stuck together, but I liked the shiny gold page edging and wasn't sure what it was called. Is it called edging? I got used to gently detaching each page as I was reading it; it was a part of the reading-the-book process that I'd never experienced before.

Thank you for all the replies so far! I will probably be checking out a good number of these, although that nice edition of Last Call appears to be out of my price range. It's interesting to learn that Morocco is actually goatskin. I hadn't known that.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2005

Checking the binding is the main thing I do to determine whether the book is "nice" or not. All of the Baroque Cycle is glued, which means that by the time your children are reading it, pages will be falling out. It has that bit of mull on the spine (the two-color ribbon that you often see at the ends of the inner spine of hardcovers) but that won't keep the pages in if they come unglued. I've seen the super-deluxe edition of Quicksilver for less than $200 somewhere, which gives me some hope that I might be able to scrape it together.

Some of the beauty of the Baroque Cycle surely comes from the fact that (after writing it out longhand) Stephenson coded it all in LaTeX, which does all that beautiful attention-to-detail of Barock Ligatures &c. automagickally for you. So for that kind of beauty it's always a pleasure to read the book for which TeX was created, Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming, which has a sewn binding, natch. And anything else by Knuth, because he really cares about books and text and letters and how they appear on a page.

Most of the McSweeney's books I have don't have sewn bindings, but most of the McSwy's books I have are from early in their lifetime when they were probably trying to cut costs and so glued them together. All 7 volumes of Rising Up And Rising Down are sewn, and that's the newest McSwy book I have, so maybe they're changing, or maybe they just figured once they broke the $100 mark there was no excuse for cheaping out. The LOTR 50th Anniversary does have a sewn binding as well -- as does that read faux-leather one and the blue/brown one that preceded the 50th Anniversary edition.

I'm a big fan of nice book design, and I agree that McSweeney's does a great job of making pretty, interesting books, but when I see someone go to all that trouble and then just glue the pages together, I'm disappointed.

One area where sewn bindings still have a strong foothold is cookbooks -- where true hard-handling durability and lie-flat are crucial. Many cookbooks also have attractive hardcovers beneath their dustjackets. No gilt-edged pages that I've seen, however.

I've heard that academic publishers have started using a particularly brittle glue for their bindings, in order to weaken the used-book academic market, and to sell more new copies, since how many times can you resell a book with the pages falling out?

Oh, so the way you tell whether a binding is sewn or glued is, look at the top edge of the book where the paper comes together at the spine. If you see a marching procession of groups of pages folded together -- like a stack of little magazines -- the binding is sewn. If you just see pages, it's glued.

Wow, that's pretty long for something with just one actual recommendation. Anything illustrated by Barry Moser is worth buying even if the binding is not sewn. His Moby Dick is monumental.
posted by xueexueg at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

posted by ori at 4:12 PM on January 24, 2005

I actually don't so much like that the pages are stuck together, but I liked the shiny gold page edging and wasn't sure what it was called. Is it called edging?
It's called gilt. Book catalogues may abbreviate: teg = top edge gilt [only], or aeg = all edges gilt. (If you ever see written references to a book with beautiful "guilt," however, you should giggle.)

Sewn bindings are better, and thus cost more. (Also, if they break, they're easier to repair.) There are lots of very inspiring 'books on books' with photos of awesome/historical/elaborate bindings . . .
posted by oldtimey at 7:43 PM on January 24, 2005

Response by poster: xueexueg: your reply was quite informative, thank you for it.

ori: omnilege is my portmanteau word! I intended it to mean: like an omnivore of reading. If there's a proper word for this I'd like to learn it.

oldtimey: "guilt" is when you put a coffee cup down on a borrowed book and it leaves a ring. I've done that - embarrassing.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:46 AM on January 25, 2005

Also, if you are interested in Muhammad Ali, some people think GOAT is pretty cool.
posted by milovoo at 4:49 PM on January 25, 2005

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