One of the first things we talk about in classes at Ooligan Press is the technology of the book and how it hasn’t changed for centuries. It’s a simple technology: words printed on pieces of paper are bound together. In recent years, while e-books and the digital world seem to be taking over, some authors have been making novel attempts to keep the book relevant. Through these efforts, authors have been creating art out of the archaic book format and giving readers experiences that can’t be replicated in the digital world.
In 2010, Tree of Codes, written by Jonathan Safran Foer, was published by Visual Editions. Foer changed an existing book, The Street of Crocodiles, by removing words from each page to create a new story. Using modern printing technology to create die-cut pages, he turned an ordinary book into a piece of art.
Last year, we saw the release of S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. S. is intended to look like a book that has been read by numerous people, complete with notes in the margins and postcards stuck between the pages. There is as much to the story within the text as there is to the notes in the margins. It’s an experience that a reader will not be able to appreciate on a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
On January 7, the publishing world saw the release of two editions of Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead Books). The first edition is a regular hardcover book that has been made available across the country. The second is a signed and numbered limited edition with the first ever 3D-printed slipcase made by Makerbot. The limited edition was available for purchase only through Amazon and Barnes & Noble for around $90 and $150, respectively; they are currently being resold for $300.
Lily Rothman wrote a great article about Lee’s novel for Time. She is quick to point out that while the book inside the case isn’t innovative, the slipcase gives readers a new way to look at books and even the printed word. Although it’s impossible to say that the story itself can’t be turned into something digital—there is an e-book version of On Such a Full Sea available—the book’s slipcase, with its new-tech 3D printing, can only be found in the non-digital world.
My one disappointment with this edition of Lee’s book is that numerous media sites, including Time and GalleyCat, said this unique book had a limited run of 200. When I opened my copy, however, I found I had number 483 out of 500. Granted, I still own one of 500 copies of this awesome edition, so I shouldn’t be too downtrodden.
These recent books are just a few examples of how imaginative authors, publishers willing to try new things, and new technologies can come together to help ensure that books will not only remain in our lives, but that they can also become pieces of visual art. E-books and the digital world are an ever-growing part of our future, but that doesn’t mean the book will disappear.