On Buying Beautiful Books

What makes a beautiful book?

Well, I suppose that’s subjective. Perhaps you like the feel of a hardback with thick pages, or relish the purchase of a smooth paperback that embodies the ‘page-turner’ promised within. Are uncoated paper covers are your thing, or are you sold by a beautiful jacket image that tells the story as you imagined it? Maybe you now exclusively buy books digitally or borrow them from a library, later scouring bookshops and the internet tirelessly for first editions of stories you’ve stumbled upon, fallen madly in love with and subsequently obsessed over physically owning a copy you can cherish and pass on to your friends and family.

I guess that’s the whole point – choice. Today we have more choice than ever before. Like it or not, the old phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ has taken on a whole new meaning as we consume stories in different ways. Physical books have become more than their content; they are expressions of our preferences, symbols of our continued love of reading and essentially whole shelves stuffed with personality (though let’s be honest, we all wish we had the space to have a library like this, or the one in The Beauty and the Beast).

For me, although my kindle is great for travelling, it is beautiful hardbacks all the way – I love the weight, the satisfaction of turning the final pages (and the heartache when that shelf built with the help of a YouTube tutorial collapses after inadvisable double-stacking). Not to mention the history that a hardback can hold- my Grandparent’s collections of leather-bound Thomas Hardys and Collection of Welsh Fairy Tales are family treasures, and have been passed down through three generations.

Now, it doesn’t get more beautiful than clothbound classics designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. The graphic interpretation of original covers (see Lady Chatterley’s Lover)! The mouth-watering colours and ribbon page marker! The wonderfully lustrous white pages! Serious love. Avid collectors will know that Madam Bovary and Crime and Punishment are the ultimate prizes (they are virtually impossible to get hold of), while The Arabian Nights collection remains my favourite (I originally read a dog-eared university library copy until investing in these editions). Not to mention the gorgeous twenties-inspired dust jackets for the F. Scott Fitzgerald hardbacks. Book lust.

Check out Tara Books too, they make the most wonderful screen-printed, hand-made books.

They are SO gorgeous, I for one have never been more interested in trees (or peacocks, or matches, or sealife). Not to mention recent editions of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls or The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

So to all the great designers and production teams out there who are working hard to create gorgeous books that reflect the wonderful stories they contain, a massive ‘well done, thank you and please continue’. Let’s celebrate wonderful stories and get more people to invest in beautiful books – and if anyone would like to offer shelf-building guidance, I have a feeling I’m going to need it.