For many centuries, books were the virtually sole way to find out what others in other places were thinking about. Since the dawn of printing, artisans of book design and artisans of discursive design have found indescribable gratification in being involved in distributing near and far the whole range of literary creations. There was until fairly recently a captive audience for publishers amidst this process.
Of course this metier has undergone a profound and devastating change over the past 15 or 20 years, due to the digitalization of information.
Most people now do all their reading online; not surprisingly, many publishing houses have died, most bookstores have closed, along with myriad newspapers and magazines. And, with few exceptions, the outlets that have survived do not emit serious literacy.
There are ways of digitally simulating the book reading experience, by having manuscripts transposed to websites acting as portals for “tablets,” readers that include components giving the sense of turning pages as lighted by nearly normal light. E-books also include audio/visual elements for transcending the constrictions of verbal communication. There is the (perhaps questionable) facility of selling or loaning only those portions of a text one might judge to be useful.
Now all that I’ve been trying to make sound like publishing business as (sort of) usual is, of course, massively problematic. For a long time people, as often solitary individuals, have been able to find their way to authors very meaningful—the likes of which being nowhere in sight in their immediate rounds—by reason of publishers allowing small-market endeavors to come to light, as financed by their big-market titles. These scrawny but compelling entries would have been brought into the view of book critics likewise looking to the edges of world history.
They would have likewise elicited from similarly contrarian graphic artists dust jackets like these.
The new book business clearly manifests no interest in ugly ducklings and that Lost Company which once apprised solitary seekers of the paradoxical beauties coming to bear. The folks at Kobo probably haven’t even heard of artisan bookbinding and graphics; but these are far from pointless extravagances—in fact being treasure to attend to for a lifetime.
We haven’t yet looked into the institutional aspects of books fading away. The university, a long-term dealer in books from a wide range of angles (publisher; archivist; and captive market), being almost entirely a technical-intellectual organ, would be quite at home with the efficiencies of the 21st century. (It would, chaffe as you will about that short shrift toward the dear old Alma Mater, be a rare academic indeed to care that the reflective incubation inputted by means now kaput could only be sustained by departing literature altogether and hieing to metiers such as dance, music and film (the important nuances of which cannot be so nearly readily lingered over; and they themselves subjected to some tough times on the subject of innovation).
But maybe tough times in this case offer their own means of moving up. First-rate filmmaking has, for instance, far surpassed first-rate literature over the past fifty or so years.
In the meantime, we have this Dutch approach to evoking the sensual homeland of well-chosen words.