The Book (Strange and) Beautiful (1)

From a previous post:

The words are not all that a book has to offer: this is true. And yet they are, almost always, the only constant in a book. Covers, margins and spines change from edition to edition. Only the words stay the same. In which case I do think Speyer had every right to take a cavalier approach to the treatment of the book as object. After all, writers and publishers do the same.

By which I meant that the vast majority of writers and publishers are quite happy to see their books transformed from edition to edition. Witness, for instance, the various foreign language editions of Roc Quarret’s Hewn. The English edition has a bright blue cover, with a pale white bird’s egg in its centre. The German edition is largely brown, with a rough sketch of a Neanderthal gracing its flat facade. The French edition is white, with nothing but the title.

What, then, of fonts? The English edition opts, for no obvious reason, for a standard, albeit oversized script. This makes the book run a hundred or so more pages than it needs to. The Germans, for their part, go too far the other way, cramming the novel into as few pages as possible. The French seem to get it just right. Well, of course…

Except that they don’t. On closer inspection, beyond cover and font, their edition has plenty of faults. For a start, it falls apart relatively easily, the spine being shoddily sewn. Secondly, the quality of the paper is uniformly poor. The cover is like regular paper; the pages like tissue paper. If you dropped this in the bath, I fear it would dissolve.

The Germans, despite their desire to make the book as short as possible, nonetheless win full marks for sturdiness. Throw this book into a pack of squabbling foxes and I guarantee that it will last the distance. Though the book is slight, it is strong. The covers are hard, and the paper near un-rippable. Could you read this underwater? Natürlich.

The English edition falls somewhere in-between. Size-wise it resembles a breeze-block. If fighting a ferocious toddler, this would be a valuable addition to one’s armoury, unless said child was equipped with a plastic axe. In that case, edges would definitely be frayed. Which is to say, do not take this book into war. Up a tree, however…

Lastly, shape. Allow me, here, to trade in facts:

French edition: 14 x 12 cm

German edition: 17.5 x 13.6 cm

English edition: 16.8 x 11 cm

More on all this later…


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