Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

November 9, 2010

A Quick Plug & My Thanks

One of my new favourite publishers is Seagull Books, the publishing-wing (pardon the pun) of the India-based Seagull Foundation for the Arts.  These books have recently become available in North America via the University of Chicago Press, and each and every one of them that I have seen has been a thing of beauty.

They publish mainly on “the arts”, but within that cachet are a great many profoundly important thinkers.  Among their published authors are heavyweights Adorno, Baudrillard, Todorov and Antonin Artaud.  The books feature beautifully designed covers, heavy decorative endpapers, dust jackets of odd materials and good paper stock.  They come in a plastic slip ensuring your book looks fresh off the press at the moment you buy them.

I’ve held off recommending them until now because the books did, however, have one (or possibly two) major drawbacks: many of the volumes use a heavy, coarse black material for the endpapers which reeks and stains.    The first thing you’ll notice when you pull the book out of the plastic is an overwhelming chemical smell.  The next thing you’ll notice is that the black “paper” feels as if it’s rubbing off on your hands.  Over time the smell does dissipate, but the paper (and this might be the fault of the book’s paper too, not just the endpapers) bulks and warps, and the book will never again lie flat.  Perhaps this was the early function of the plastic cover: to keep the book book-shaped.

BUT.  I am thrilled to observe that the latest printing of Baudrillard’s Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared? has addressed these problems.  The black endpapers are gone, replaced by a nice textured beige material which doesn’t stink at all.  The book opens and closes more easily, indicating that the paper might not be as stubborn.  Everything that was good remains while all that was offensive is gone.  Form seems to have caught up with function and now I am pleased to encourage you to seek these books out at your local bookstore, even if only to look at what a beautiful book can look like.

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