A printed book, perhaps like dinosaur bones, is a treasure to behold

“If you’re thinking about a book in its early stages, you’re almost always imagining what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to feel like. And I think we’re coming into a time where we as publishers do that digitally as well. We think about something in a digital form. But if it’s going to insist on being physical, it means it’s going to be lavish, beautiful, tactile, something to linger over.”

~ Karen Lotz, Candlewick Press

Publisher Karen Lotz was talking on this morning National Public Radio about a new children’s book, an elaborately illustrated retelling of Homer’s “The Odyssey” by Gillian Cross, but I found her comment about print books in general to resonate with me as an author.

A printed book is a tactile experience.

My memoir is not a picture book like Cross’s (frankly, that’s a blessing, don’t you think?), but I spent long days making sure the words appeared beautifully on the pages of the printed book. Every 0.2-inch indent was made with care. The line spacing was carefully set to 1.33 lines (not 1.32 or 1.34). Given the choice between “white” and “cream” interior paper, I labored over the pros and cons and went with cream, which accented my cover art. The cover itself is an oil painting created by an artist, the words designed to accent the image rather than overpower.

Every single one of its 308 pages was viewed, reviewed and tweaked. The result isn’t simply a vehicle for a story but an artifact.

“The fact that a printed book invites you to close it, and that it has been specially designed so that the shape of it might be unique — the shape of The Odyssey is quite interesting, isn’t it?” said the author in this morning’s radio interview. “And the weight of it in your hands — all these things I think have value in that they invite you to reflect on what’s inside the book.”

Who among us hasn’t finished a physical book, closed its covers, passed it from hand to hand, re-read the book jacket or back cover so as to linger with the object after the story is done?

Unlike “The Odyssey,” my book was easily converted to an e-book. All the formatting I painstakingly added was simply striped away. An e-reader gets to choose a font of her liking, a print size precisely comfortable to her eyes, as little white space as possible to fill a small screen. Even bullets — simple round dots — were simplified for the screen version.

In terms of popularity, ebooks are winning. For “The Percussionist’s Wife,” 58 percent of sales have been ebooks. For most of us with most books, it’s the words, not the document, that matters.

While I enjoy the convenience of reading e-books and the novelty of being able to define a digital word by simply touching it, I love printed books. As a designer, the print form of my memoir is art. I know I’m not the only one. People ask me to sign my work of art!

No one has asked me to sign their Kindle.

Monica Lee’s memoir, “The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal,” is available in its exquisitely designed printed form from Amazon as a paperback or Lulu as a hardcover.


3 thoughts on “A printed book, perhaps like dinosaur bones, is a treasure to behold

  1. I much prefer printed over e-reader- something about holding that weight and turning those pages- my problem is I am running out of places to put bookcases- hmmmm, there is a large open spot in the dining room……!

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