The Book in America
The Book in America

I received this book in the post earlier this week, the day after I ordered it through ABE UK from Charles Bossom Books. It arrived tightly packed they way my father taught me books should be packed, with the description enclosed in the book and a quick word about Mr Bossom’s store, which I had not known but which he has been running since 1963.

The book itself struck me when I took it from the wrapping as everything a book should be in its physical embodiment. The cover is textured blue cloth with a gold embossed image on the front and title on the spine. The pages are strong, heavy paper with clear type. The binding is tight and could almost be new, though the book was printed in 1939. There is nothing special about the book, but it impresses me the way early American Tools impressed Eric Sloane:

“these ancient implements are symbols of sincerity, an integrity, and an excellency that the unionized craftsman of today might do well to emulate” Museum of Early American Tools

The book, of course, is unionized craftsmanship. It seems strange to describe an object that was mass produced as a piece of craftsmanship, but the book clearly is. Looking at a well-made book, I am struck by its fitness for purpose. Its a type of object that hardly evolved at all after the first 40-50 years. It did not appear fully formed from the press, but very nearly so. There is a pleasure in looking at it and holding it, a pleasure not provided by a book bound in an e-reader. Though the devices themselves are quite attractive, they seem designed as much to meet a brand requirement as to provide a specific, quality experience.

It is not just because this particular, 73 year-old-book book was well made or a special edition, or because back in the good-old-days they made quality books. I’ve just scanned my shelves for a cheap old book that does not impress with its suitability to purpose, an old beat paperback with the pages dropping out or perhaps a populist bit of internet philosophy — but though they were not made as well, perhaps with cheap paper or glue maybe or an inappropriate and market-researched cover, they still impress me with the match between their purpose and their form. The take up space, which in the modern era is a fault, and it is difficult to carry many of them through airport check-ins these days because they are heavy. They are inconveniently there when you are trying to clear the house in the Spring. All these failings, however, are compensated for in utility, which provides the undeniable beauty of form meeting function.

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