Friday, July 10, 2009

Deep in Geekdom

I judge a book by its cover. I think this is a colophon for my twisted psychology, summarized in a hackneyed phrase. Admitting this, I have to clarify that this is strictly pedantry for the most part. I consciously hold off passing judgment on people based on appearances or first impressions, because I've long since discovered that they who initially do not evoke warm and maternal feelings in me are those that eventually become my most treasured friends.

Books, however, are an entirely different matter. I'm a self-proclaimed obsessive reader. I read almost anything including the Spanish and German texts in a waffle maker manual, just to see if I can pronounce some words right, and afterward verifying my accuracy (or my mistakes, more often than not) through an online dictionary with an audio-pronunciation key. But, just a tad shy of being a total geek, the shallow part of me likes pretty books and chokes back tears at the sight of a neat row of them on a bookshelf, especially if they are arranged in an aesthetically awe-inspiring fashion.

I know that some people prefer paperbacks, because they are not so unwieldy for bedtime reading. I have seldom been inconvenienced by a book's heft nor girth, possessing above-average upper body strength and dexterity, and having mastered the skill of reading while a book is opened at my maximum allowable angle of 90 degrees. I prefer the solid feel of a hardback in my hands, and the thick pages of text framed by generous margins that makes the whole visual composition easy on the eyes. I know that this detail of printed words against white space is more commonly adopted in poetry, but I think they do wonders for even chick-lit and non-fiction as well.

In terms of size, I like the bigger paperbacks: C format, about 216-234mm x 138-256mm. Because of the width, the pages seem more inviting. I like having to hold a book with both hands while I leaf through it, rather than being tempted by its narrowness to grab hold of it in one--- thumb to fore-edge and 4 fingers to spine, and then retracting one's thumb to shuffle through the pages, the way you would a deck of playing cards. This action, to me, implies a certain indifference, a measure of disrespect even, towards something that serves to educate, enlighten or entertain.

For hardbacks, I notice that they come in more creative dimensions, though never too small for my taste. I particularly like the size of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, because it gives the impression of being more equilateral than rectangular (approximately 210mm x 170mm), and Nick Bantock's The Venetian's Wife (approximately 232mm x 190mm), because it is big enough without being Etch-A-Sketch-y.

New books appeal to me more than used ones, because they just generally smell better, the pages are crisper, the contrast between black text and white book paper is more marked and the colors of the cover art are bolder. I agree that used books have a certain charm, bequeathed by their previous owners--- notes scribbled in a haphazard hand across the margins; dog ears; the dusty, woodsy smell of history; and the yellowed pages wrinkling at the edges. I don't mind the inevitable traces of age, but I am distracted by the marginal notes and dog ears because they are purposefully inflicted and unnecessary. Books are not journals. And if one cannot retrieve from memory the page number where he had stopped reading, then a bookmark is the way to go. I don't completely subscribe to the belief that a previous owner gives a book its personality; his habits merely add to it. Stories move us, transport us, inspire us--- each reader responds relative to his personality, his moral code, his well of experiences and his proclivities. Each experience with any one book is as unique as the individual reading it. Books are interesting enough on their own, without having to have their corners folded for personality.

I like to seal in the newness of a book by covering it. I'm not a big fan of plastic, truth be told. But for its availability, for the quantum of protection it provides and for the premium of allowing me to appreciate the unconcealed cover design, I concede that it's more convenient to wrap them in plastic.

I'm a very visual person, and good cover art rakes in major points in my book. I go for no particular style, but I certainly have favorite artists. I love Quentin Blake's frugal use of lines and color. I am overwhelmed by Yoshitaka Amano's talent; his beautiful paintings help tell the equally mesmerizing tale of The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman. Shel Silverstein's style is fun and frivolous, while Eric Carle's is bold and imposing--- and their poetry and stories are as entertaining as their art. I admire Nick Bantock's use of images: haunting, oftentimes disturbing, and on other occasions, soothing. Of the fairly recent crop of local children's book illustrators, there are several who I'm wild about, like Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. Her art has a distinctly Filipino flavor; it's playful and mellow at the same time, despite her penchant for color. In her buoyant style, she manages to make a page look complete even if it's just a solitary drawing in one obscure corner.

Books have always been a great source of fascination for me--- abstract thoughts expressed so coherently, a spattering of words arranged and combined to convey an authentic emotion, fiction so removed from reality but in the reading becomes almost palpable and intensely personal.

I judge books by their appearance, yes, but only because I believe that they are invaluable, and therefore the presentation should reflect no less than their worth.


Sana said...

way to go ajie!

you are brilliant, witty (and sexy) book geek =)

i love beth, she is doing some project with me.

p.s. can you send an email on how to cover a book without using tape? i just bought a book that i know i have to cover =)

from a fellow geek (less talented),
sana =)

Peter S. said...

Hi Ajie! You are so OC about your books! It's so nice to finally meet someone who's as OC as I am when it comes to books.

I love the larger trade paperback editions too.

Do you use gauge 8 plastic cover on your books? I do. And I noticed the commenter above asking about covering books without using tape. I think I've somehow mastered that.

mental wayfarer said...

Peter: You have to teach me how to cover without tape!!!