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Monday, April 13, 2015

Art of the Book with Brian Murdoch

Have you ever thought about books having a story to tell beyond the words on the page? Why was the book written? Who owned it? Did the owner write something of significance in the margin?

Brian Murdoch brought up these ideas and more on April 9 during his talk “The Importance of Books Beyond the Text: Books as Historical Artifacts.”

Brian made me think about why I love book stores and what we have lost with the demise of so many independent stores and the shift to online. I love the smell of ink, the feel of the paper, the promise of the spine of a book, and the potential of the covers. I enjoy displays in bookstores of books that have been banned through time or the favourite books of one of the employees. I enjoy it when you tell an employee that you like an author and they say “well if you like her, then you might like….”

In 2012 I attended Vancouver O'Reilly's Mini TOC (Tools of Change for Publishing). I wrote about how I heard a lot of discussion about discoverability, curated content, and interactive books. Although it is now 2015 I do not think that the challenge of discoverability for online book stores has been solved.  A number of social cataloguing websites exist where users can add books to their personal bookshelves, rate and review books, and see what their friends are reading. There are algorithms on these sites and the online shopping sites that suggest books based on your reading and shopping habits. However, there is no algorithm that can replace a passionate book store employee or antiquarian book dealer who loves books and creates “for his customers the joy of discovering a book they didn't know existed.”

Book selling and reviewing is now too often about the best-sellers. At chain stores we are often pointed by a disinterested employee in the direction of the genre rather than guided to an author waiting to be discovered.

Brian also talked about the art of books. The beauty of illustrations created by hand on metal plates and printed separately from the text; a world away from our digital creations. He talked about leather covers gilt edged by hand. He talked about how to tell a first edition and cautioned us about online purchasing. He asked why books are not valued as art on the same level as paintings.

This post just glosses over the depth and range of topics that Brian covered. I look forward to the second talk in the series on book design with Bill Glasgow of William Glasgow Design.

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