Art + Design + Music + Movies + Books

Tree of Codes.


I get asked a lot about eBooks and how the prospect of a shift toward the digital publication of books that would normally be printed on paper makes me feel, and my reaction tends to be about 98% negative. There is a tiny part of me that thinks, Well, maybe if it’s a college textbook…, or as long as it helps the publishing industry to survive, but the rest of me inwardly breaks out in hives and outwardly does a long, serious eye roll.

As a book cover designer and as a lover of books and an avid reader, I don’t see the act of reading as a purely word-based experience. Reading is also tactile. Reading should involve interaction between you and the text in your hands. The speed at which you turn to the next page (or flip back to the one before) matters. That accidental glimpse you got of page 273 (while still only on page 32) while fishing around for your bookmark matters. The weight of the book in your bag—that subtle reminder that it’s waiting for you—matters. The paper stock matters! The font, the letter-spacing, the margin width! It all matters! You know what else matters? The COVER. Yes, I’m biased, but how many times have you caught a glimpse of a book in someone else’s hands from across the subway and become curious about it just because of the cover? It happens to me all the time! Bah. And don’t even get me started on the smell of old paper and fresh ink! Even when you’ve finished reading a book, its presence on a shelf in your home matters.

(And by the way, the notion that eBooks will somehow cut down on environmental waste is nonsense. Where do you think all of those electronic devices will wind up when consumers feel the need to “upgrade” to a newer model every 18 months or so? What exactly are we trying to preserve?)

But I digress.

As I’ve mentioned, Jonathan Safran Foer is one of my most favorite contemporary authors. If you’ve read any of his books, you know that the textual experience is as visual as it is verbal. He plays with spacing and scale and size and elimination on the page, and obviously has an interest in the roles of graphic design and typography in communicating a particular mood or idea. With his latest book, Tree of Codes, he’s gone one step further. Or maybe ten steps further.

Here, I’ll let him tell you a little bit about the book himself:

Tree of Codes

Tree of Codes

Starting with Polish artist and writer Bruno Schulz’s book The Street of Crocodiles as a source, Foer cut away at portions of the text to create an entirely new story to be read through layers upon layers of windows within pages.

Working with London-based publisher Visual Editions, Foer was able (after a very long search and many rejections) to find an ambitious printing company in Belgium, die Keure, who were willing to take on the task of printing the book in large quantities. It took them a solid year of preparation and prototyping to actually produce the finished book. After all, it’s one thing to create a book like this in an edition of 5 or 10, and a whole other thing to mass-produce it! You can watch a short video of the die-cutting process.

What’s even more exciting than the creation of the book, though is the reaction of people upon holding it in their hands and looking at it for the first time:

Oh, the joy of (printed) books! There’s nothing else like it. I’ve ordered my copy, and I can’t wait to read it (and look at it, and hold it).

As with all of Jonathan Safran Foer’s previous books, the cover was designed by Jon Gray / gray318. The interior design is by Sara De Bondt studio.

Thanks, Evan, for telling me about the book!

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  • Reply pamela November 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    i so feel you on this. and along with all you mentioned, i don’t want to stare more at a lit up screen at the end of the day when i could be holding a real book. books are lovely to hold.

  • Reply Lori November 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    My sentiments exactly…well said.

    And Foer’s book…WOW!

  • Reply nicole November 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    amazing! as someone also in the publishing world, i could also go on about my own personal belief that digital books simply are not and cannot be an adequate substitute for the printed page. this is why our home is overrun with crammed bookshelves and stacks of beloved books placed about the rooms. and yet i find myself riding the waves like the rest of the industry, mindful of the momentum.

    the jonathan safran foer project sounds truly amazing. honestly, it makes my head spin just thinking about the production complexities and the expense of all of that meticulous work. how wonderful that he was able to find a publisher willing and enthusiastic to embrace the challenge.

    it speaks to something i contemplate a lot: the printed book will survive as long as it is offered up as a beautiful object.

  • Reply Dieuwy November 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Great! Seeing these pages with cuts reminds me of two artists I recently read about. One is Kim Rugg who rearranges every letter on a newpaper page to create a whole new page. Amazing! Read more here or watch this

    And there’s a Belgian writer who ‘writes’ poetry by crossing out words in the newspaper.
    I just had to think of that.
    But this new book of Safran Foer is definitely on my wishlist! I don’t think I will ever read a book from a screen…

  • Reply ANNIE November 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I had it in my hands this weeks and was blown away. Just beautiful.
    For me, there is nothing like a book that you can feel and smell.

  • Reply Amanda November 18, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    I really like this post. Honestly, I didn’t even think about the fact that the reading devices would become obsolete (or perceived as obsolete) but that is so true. Also, I stare at a computer screen for about ten hours a day, so it is very nice to curl up on the couch with a book at the end of the day, without worrying that I’m going to shift and unplug it. Ha.

    JSF’s book looks really cool, too. Another book that played a lot with space and crazy word printing was House of Leaves. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I do remember thinking that it contributed a lot to the mood of the story.

    • Erica November 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

      I’m reading House of Leaves right now for an online book club, and I was reading this post thinking of how JSF’s book might be a nice follow when I finish. It’s sitting on my wishlist too!

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 3:54 pm

      I’m definitely interested in House of Leaves!! Thanks, both of you!

  • Reply Adam November 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    You completely nailed my feelings about eBooks vs. regular books. I have always thought of a book as both a work of art in regards to the written word and as a 3D work of art as well. While eBooks may be handier for some people and sometimes have uses within a school setting (for various students with learning disabilities, etc.) overall I feel the eBook really sucks the soul out of a book. I love the example byt Jonathan Safran Foer that you posted here, what a creative and visually intriguing idea!

  • Reply christin November 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    thank you for telling me about this book! one copy is now on its way to norway. I just couldnt wait for christmas 🙂

  • Reply jennifer in sf November 18, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I come down pretty much in the middle of the e-books debate. I absolutely love printed books, and you’d have to pry most of mine out of my cold dead hands. But I read a certain amount of genre fiction, which let’s face it, tends to not have the same attention to design of the actual book. So I really enjoy being able to read that stuff electronically.

    I think it’s very cool that such a well known writer is drawing attention to the book arts and book design like this.

  • Reply Brandie November 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I’m with you on this. My love of books involves the entire ritual, not just the words on the page. I love the hunt of a book (rummaging through old book shops, borrowing from friends), the smell (new or old), the touch (feeling different paper weights, textures, etc.), the whole package.

    A cold hard machine can never replace the experience of reading an actual book.

    And Tree of Codes is going on the top of my holiday wish list!

  • Reply Kate November 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Yes! I am 100% with you on this. There is a (very) small part of me that understands the convenience of the Kindle and other e-reading devices. But mostly there is the book lover in me who thinks there is nothing better than walking into a dusty, musty second hand bookstore, running my hands over the frayed spines and imagining who was there before me. There is something so cozy and warm about a room filled with books. I think (and hope) that there are enough of us true book lovers in the world that the printed word will never be completely obsolete.

  • Reply Krysta November 18, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I will never give up real live books. I can’t. They are too much of a good thing. I love browsing bookstores to find my new book, love the covers, love the stacks they make on my bedside table, love how they fill up all my bookshelves. I think they are one of the best gifts you can give.

    And I love JSF too. After watching those videos I ordered the book. Can’t wait!

  • Reply shermi November 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I agree with you, my son whom I taught to read at 3 is asking for an ereader for Christmas(he’s 12)but I really think he is going to miss real books, he reads about 500+ pages weekly so I have to buy used books, he has tapped the library at his school. I like the way you worded it though especially about the bookmarks and act of turning a page. I’ve been reading since I was 3 as well and I thought I was the only one who gets geeked up by that sort of thing.

  • Reply Fiona November 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    If printed books do fall out of fashion I’ll be the last Luddite clinging to ‘the real thing’. I’d wonder about how well archives would survive digitally. I mean stuff created on near-obsolete software, backed up on zips and syquest discs from just a few years ago are difficult enough to retrieve, what about 600 years from now?

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm

      Oh my god, Syquest discs!!!! Memories…

      And you’re totally right, of course. I’m sure there will be accessible archives, but what about the copies of digital “books” you buy? Do you actually own something if you can’t look at it in 10 or 20 years?

  • Reply Ella November 18, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I really find it hard to concentrate on a longer piece of text when reading it from a screen. It’s unpleasurable.

    This book intrigues me so. I want it!

  • Reply Jennifer November 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. There is just something so magical about holding a book in your hands, cracking the cover and diving into another world that just isn’t the same on a Kindle. The feel of the paper as you turn the pages, the smell, all of it — can’t live without it!

  • Reply Lena November 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Well I hope that it will be possible to kind of lend all the books the various university libraries have as e-books. Because right now organizing all the books I need for university takes a lot of time, you have to go to various locations, hope nobody else needs them when you need it ect. So I hope for e- university libraries. But for pleasure? Real books it surely is!

  • Reply Marta November 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    You took the words out of my mouth. Books are amazing objects and I can’t (won’t) believe they will disapear. Nothing can replace the pleasure of flipping through pages and feeling the book.

  • Reply Jess November 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    It’s true that nothing will ever be as satisfying as combing aisles of spines and bins of books to find the perfect read or curling up with a warm blanket book in hand, but I think it will help screen out the books that end up taking up shelf space and help people keep their libraries to the books they really want to keep. I don’t think the act of buying physical books will ever be obsolete, at least in our lifetimes. Think music industry.

    I also think this movement towards e-books is a fantastic way for independent authors to get out there.

    But, this may just be because I can’t stand giving up any books I’ve actually bought.

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 4:49 pm

      I’m a pessimist when it comes to the idea that eBooks will help smaller authors get exposure. As we’ve seen with the music industry, less personal value and attachment is placed on intangible objects than on things we can actually hold and keep. It’s very hard for me to believe that in the long term we’ll see what you’re hoping for actually happening. Of course, like I said, I’m a pessimist. 😉

  • Reply Patricia Ann November 18, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    This book is beautiful, I only hope that I won’t get distracted from wanting to “feel the spaces” instead of actually reading it.

    Speaking of books, I was wondering if you could help me out with a dilemma? I used to read a lot back in high school. It was more fun then because the books I read didn’t have a mandatory exam attached to it by the time I reached the epilogue. It’s been awhile since I picked up a good a book and even then, I’m very picky when it comes to buying one. At the bookstore or online, there doesn’t seem to be enough information or time to gauge whether or not I want to purchase it. Often times than not, the ones I do buy (even the bestseller/notable/awarded/etc.) ends up collecting dust on my bookshelf – unread.

    I realized that I have a hard time “graduating” and moving up towards more thought provoking reads. There are a lot of great books out there that I want to stay up with way past my bed time but it’s so hard getting that groove going and being interested again. (Yes, I’m still talking about books and not using it as a metaphor for a man. Hehe!) Any idea what I could do to get back to enjoying reading again without being turned off at the drop of a hat when I read a hard word I can’t pronounce?

    Thanks a lot! 🙂

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      Someone else asked me a similar question recently, and the suggestion I made was to choose a book that you read when you were younger that you remember really loving. Read it again, now, even if it’s not intended for people your age. Let yourself fall in love with the act of reading again!

      I don’t think that every book we read has to be challenging, by the way. I think it’s just as important to read for pleasure as it is for enrichment, and I also believe that any kind of pleasurable reading ultimately leads to a stronger ability and desire to read those more thought-provoking books you’re hoping to ease yourself into.

      In short, don’t make reading a chore. Do everything you can to make it enjoyable! And don’t stop when you get to a hard word or a concept you don’t understand. Look it up! That’s the great thing about the internet. 🙂

    • Patricia Ann November 19, 2010 at 12:00 am

      Yeah, too bad I don’t have the power in me to shuffle through a book I already know the ending of so I think that suggestion is out for me. Although, I do agree that I need to stop taking reading as a chore and to just read to enjoy reading. I think my main issue is distraction and usually when a book hasn’t captured me in the first few pages I get easily distracted. It just means I haven’t properly zoned out to give it a proper read. Thanks a lot Anna! 🙂

    • Martha November 18, 2010 at 5:40 pm

      I’ve found I have this problem too in my young twenties, and I’ve started to think it might be because I very plugged-in at my local library when I was younger and now that’s not really true. I wonder if trying to talk with librarians about recent fiction/non-fiction options based on your particular interests might be of help?

    • Amanda November 18, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      I agree. To get back into reading, I started with some “guilty pleasures”, just to get back into the habit of looking forward to a gripping or even silly story at bedtime. The more books I read, the more I want to read, and that includes expanding out into more challenging books.

  • Reply sarahb November 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    this looks amazing. cannot wait to get my hands on it…

  • Reply Marie November 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    As much as I looooooooooove books, I’m also a Third World country citizen and you wouldn’t believe how expensive beautiful and no so beautiful books are here (I mean, when I buy a -always second hand- book in English I mentally calculate its proportion to my general income compared to Us or European incomes and I lose, always). Besides, many tittles are pretty much impossible to find unless you’re willing to pay crazy money for delivery and taxes. That’s when buying an e-book and downloading like hell makes sense.
    I still buy books all the time, my Sony reader is just an aid.

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      Thank you so much for bringing this perspective into the discussion, Marie. It’s true, I do take for granted how relatively inexpensive and easily accessible books are in this country—and particularly for me, since I work in publishing.

      I promise to be more tolerant of eBooks when it comes to making it easier for people all over the world to read!!

  • Reply Misa November 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    “she was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.”

    i love jonathan safran foer so much. like, soooo much it kind of hurts. it sort of makes me want to weep.

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm

      I know! Me too.

  • Reply Martha November 18, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Jonathan Safran Foer’s book is on Fubiz today too. I wonder if they are readers of yours? Spreading the word in French as well as English can’t be a bad thing!

  • Reply Jessica Grace November 18, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Anna you have said everything I feel so eloquently! I totally agree with the notion that e-books will cut down on electronic waste. With all the metals used to produce electronics, I truly don’t think they are more environmentally friendly than paper ink and cardboard. Plus I love the whole experience of reading a book. Thank you so much for this post!

  • Reply Monica November 18, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    I have quite a few of my grandmother’s books, she passed away last year, and many are filled with little pieces of paper on which she wrote annotations. One of the many things one can get from a book, but never an eBook.

    • Anna @ D16 November 18, 2010 at 8:57 pm

      Oh gosh, yes. I should have mentioned that in my post. I even love buying a used book and discovering a stranger’s notations in it! Or a newspaper article tucked behind the flap…

  • Reply Denise Smith November 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I have been in love with books since I begged by mother to teach me to read at 4 years old, which was unheard of 40 years ago. Reading is my prime past time, and if I had one day left to live, much to my husband’s chagrin, I would spend it reading. I have owned thousands of books in my lifetime and cherished every one. That said:
    I LOVE my Kindle. I love it. I say, don’t knock it till you go to the beach with it. I saw a video about it when it first came out, and Jeff Bezos discussed how the developers spent much energy and time trying to make a device that would disappear as it was being used. They 100% succeeded. When I read the Kindle, I am completely lost in the story, unlike my experience with books. It’s great for reading mammoth books, too, like the unabridged Les Miserables and War and Peace.

  • Reply Erin (mrs_danderfluff) November 18, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Okay, 99% of me agrees with you, and the bulk of my literature is purchased in the form of physical books. But for the sake of playing devil’s advocate (as I am wont to do) here are a couple of reasons why I think ebooks do have a place in the literary world:

    1. I have a *tiny* house, and there just isn’t room to store the amount of books I read. If I read an ebook that I love enough to consider it “shelf worthy”, then I’ll usually purchase the physical book as well. (I know you’re all crying LIBRARY, but sadly, our local library’s selection borders on abysmal. I do still hold a card, though, and I’ll use it if I’m looking for an older title.)

    2. It is really, really nice to be able to download an ebook at 4am when I can’t sleep, or when I’ve finished one of a series and CAN’T WAIT to start the next one.
    Call it a failure of self-control, but I’ve purchased several ebooks under such circumstances.

    3. I have to agree with the point that was previously made about the potential for indie authors to gain exposure (no disrespect, Anna!). The concept of direct digital downloads has revolutionized the music industry and allowed many of my friends (and my husband) to reach a vastly larger audience with their music than would have been previously possible. I hope the same will be true for independent writers as well.

    That being said, I don’t think ebooks could ever possibly replace real books. A well- designed, well-constructed book is a piece of art, and there will always be a special place in the hearts of bibliophiles for the printed word. That will never change.

    Besides, you can’t take your Kindle into the bath tub.

  • Reply kay* November 18, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    i’m a huge book lover and avid reader and you basically summed up (in words i couldn’t quite find) why i love books so much and have not really been into the whole eBook hype/trend…

    HOWEVER having said that (& as you know) i’m moving to india for a year and on top of moving there plan on doing a bit of traveling around the country (which means more hours than i care to count on a bus or train…). so when my sister and brothers got me an iPad – i gladly expected it. this way i’ll be able to have several books at my fingertips without the weight of lugging them around. so for that reason, it’s a plus for me.

    but if i weren’t moving abroad and didn’t plan on spending so much time in transit i likely wouldn’t own one.

  • Reply Lori E November 18, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I have never used a Kindle as I am a bit scared of all things techno but reading actual books? Now that is something I have tons of experience with. 🙂 I used to work in an old library and it was one of my most favorite jobs ever. Being surrounded by old books, new books, in between books just fed my addiction. I have been tempted in the past to ask for a Kindle but have never followed thru… And I am too cheap to buy books so I get most things from the good, ol’ public library.

  • Reply Rachel November 19, 2010 at 12:33 am

    wow. i can’t wait to get my hands on this one. thanks for sharing!

  • Reply chrispito November 19, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I love this post. I love books and reading. I’m also an artist and printmaking major and find this kind of book SO FREAKING COOOOOOOOLIO!

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  • Reply Anja November 19, 2010 at 3:54 am

    Thank you! I didn’t know about this book. It’s mind-boggling. Foer’s visual way of writitng is really interesting and unusual (apart from the fact that his prose is beautiful, too).
    I have always been a reader (and worked in publishing for a while – I was one of few editors who cared a lot about the paper stock! and would like to get back into it, but the business is on its knees here in Denmark) and agree with you on every single point. Surprisingly, I’ve read quite a few books on my ipod touch – mostly because they were free from the Gutenberg project and because the ipod is convenient for carrying around. I find that the good thing about reading on such a small screen is that it prevents me from skimming the pages. I tend to do that more or less unconsciously (drawback of being a quick reader). The e-reading made me pay more attention to the sentences. But there is no artefact, no love affair with the object, about the e-reader, is there?

  • Reply LL November 19, 2010 at 4:11 am

    He never ceases to amaze me. I want to crawl inside his head and make my way through all the crevices of his mind. I have this book on order now. Thank you for posting about it.

  • Reply Nina November 19, 2010 at 7:08 am

    While I love physical books (our house is full of them) – i have to say I also love my kindle. I live in a none english speaking country and its 1. expensive and 2. difficult to get some english books – the kindle solves both those problems.
    On top of that i travel a lot and on my kindle and I keep up to 1500 books with me! Now why shouldnt that be great? No more lugging around 5 heavy books when I go on holiday and as someone else mentioned – if you want a new book – you can get it just about anywhere anytime.
    I have to say that I am probably reading much more since I got my kindle and that is also a good thing. On top of that there are a lot of classic books out there that you can now get for free to download and new writers that have an easier way of publishing without actually printing their works.

    I will never stop buying physical books (especially when it comes to books on design ect) – and for my studies I prefer to have a printed text that I can highlight – but I would also not want to miss my e-book.

  • Reply LeeAnn November 19, 2010 at 8:09 am

    What an amazing concept! I am truly amazed at the whole process and just in awe at the idea and the man who was able to take his concept into reality. My husband and I are very excited about an upcoming vacation where reading is a number one agenda. While I sometimes feel the urge to play with a new technical device I am not as ready to pick up an e-reader. Love, love, love the discussion readers are having in your comments as well. On vacation I will be taking a few contemporary books (still looking for a couple more if you have suggestions!) and I recently found my whole Ann of Green Gables collection from when I was 12. I saved all my money to buy each book at $6 a piece. I can’t wait to touch them, smell them, and enjoy old memories I once had forgotten.

  • Reply Kimi November 19, 2010 at 8:18 am

    I’m a children’s book designer and this has been a huge topic of discussion, since children’s publishing is being forced to become ipad-friendly. But it makes all of us go CRAZY since font choice is so utterly important, as is pacing and a smooth reading experience (orphans and widows! For the non-book designers, these are not referring to human beings). And for kids I believe that the tactile experience in the hand allows them a respite from the ever-increasing fast-paced world of technology. Plus, a huge benefit to everyone economically and environmentally, is that libraries buy up children’s books in buttloads and host free story hours where there is then the added benefit of socializing.

    Although I really really want an ipad. Because my cat can play piano on it.

  • Reply nic November 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Fascinating! I’ve just gone on and pre-ordered my own copy. Thank you for sharing!

    I completely agree with you by the way. I’m morally opposed to the e-book readers too and value the experience of reading a book and keeping it on hand. And Jonathan Safran Foer’s books are the most beautiful I’ve read largely owing to how he marries the written word to its visualization.

  • Reply Allie November 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

    So when an author is “penning” their manuscript, presumably on a computer, you’re saying the words are worth less because they haven’t been printed yet? What about a blind person who has to listen to audio books or have books read to them? E-books are not the same thing as paper books, I’ll give you that, but are they worth less? I don’t think so. And is anyone actually saying they WANT e-books to replace paper? No. They’re just another way to read. And what’s to say that you can’t design a great cover for a digital medium the same way as websites can be a work of art.

    Let’s keep the e-book trade in perspective, shall we? Give it some time and an open mind.

    • Anna @ D16 November 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm

      Assuming you’re referring to my reply above to Jess, you’ve completely misread my words—that’s the opposite of what I said! What I meant is that consumers tend to put a lower value, monetarily-speaking, on things that they cannot hold in their hands. This is exactly what we’ve seen happen with digital music, especially with younger generations who have grown up with the format. There is a sense that what’s digital is somehow free for the taking, and that attempts to charge for digital content are unfair. I’m not saying that I agree with that kind of value-determination, but it’s obviously a huge, HUGE issue right now—think of all the people who feel entitled to steal music, TV shows, movies, and so forth, just because they are digitized. How many of those people who have no problem at all stealing digital content would also walk into a store and shoplift a CD or DVD? Not many, I’m guessing.

      I really do have a lot of concern about how authors will be treated going forward with eBooks. Right now there have been pricing agreements made between the larger publishers and Apple to protect the selling price of digital content, and I think that’s VERY important. I just hope that consumers ultimately agree to this pricing (and actually PAY for content) and understand that just because the production cost of an eBook is lower, that the author still needs to get paid. I have serious doubts, judging by past experience with other industries that have moved to a primarily-digital format. In the end, it’s the authors and musicians and artists who wind up getting screwed.

      I don’t know if you work in the publishing industry, but I can assure you that YES, there are a great number of people who really do want to see publishing shift eBooks in a big, BIG way, and yes, as a replacement for paper. This is very real. I’m already working on covers right now for books that will be “eBook originals”—in other words, no paper edition will even exist.

      As I said in my post and in the comments, of course there are exceptions when I can see eBooks having an intrinsic value that cannot be met by a printed format. I’m not denying that at all. What I don’t want to see happen, though, is for the book as a whole—as a tangible, dimensional, object—be discarded for the sake of automated, cheap production. That’s not good for the authors or the readers.

  • Reply msd November 19, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    As a longtime book lover with bulging bookshelves who won’t by a book if I don’t like the font, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. However, for me it’s not an either-or situation. I do agree about the “value” issue – the industry needs to tread very carefully and avoid many of the mistakes of the music industry. (Who, frankly, were treating music like it was disposable long before the likes of Napster.) There are cons to e-books but there are definite pros. At the moment the only friend of mine who is really into e-books lives in a rural area. She can’t just pop into a bookshop to buy a book, she needs to get books shipped to her. It’s time consuming and costly. It also creates its own little carbon footprint.

    That leads me to to the issue of waste, which is complex (in the same way the food miles issue is more complex than people think). E-readers may get thrown into landfill but the other side of the argument is that e-books will reduce a lot of the environmental damage the book industry does because they will reduce print runs.

    There was a great article a few years back in the UK about the environmental cost of the publishing industry – production, transport and book pulping, which averages about 40%. It makes for scary reading!

    “What with production and transport, the average paperback has eaten its way through 4.5kWh of energy by the time it gets to a reader. In terms of climate impact, this is equivalent to about 3kg of carbon dioxide emissions for every glossy new textbook. So, for a print run of 10,000, there is a cost of 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide not mentioned on the dust jackets.

    But this is a best-case scenario. The sale-or-return system virtually guarantees that the damage is much more severe. If half the books delivered to bookshops then have to be trucked back to the publisher and pulped, there’s yet another great belch of greenhouse gases to ultimately heat up the cheeks of both publisher and author.

    Assume that the average print run for those 200,000 titles is just 1,000 copies. That’s 200 million books coming off the presses in a year – 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and, even if we assume very low return rates, enough pulped book to fill the dining hall at Hogwart’s several times over.

    In terms of its contribution to global warming, UK publishing in effect puts an extra 100,000 cars on our roads. “

  • Reply Anna Elena November 20, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    A little late to the discussion, but everytime I think of JSF the following thought crosses into my mind:

    “man, I just want to crawl into his brain”

    Which is not a very intelligent sort of thing to think. But it’s true.

    And also: Print books 4-everrr.

  • Reply dew i November 21, 2010 at 9:05 am


    E-books are corporate conspiracy to create captured consumers, and they have been increasing the cost at will.

  • Reply christina November 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    i’ve been entirely devoted to books my whole life
    the idea that one day they will be “obsolete” frightens me
    disgusts me. i can’t stand that thought.
    it’s not about just the story. it’s so much more than that.

    it makes me deeply unhappy that a dream i had as a kid – owning an independent bookstore – will probably never happen. there just isn’t a market for it.
    breaks my heart.

  • Reply Jordana @ White Cabana November 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Oh wow. This is beyond incredible.

  • Reply Becky November 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Sorry, I know this is an older entry, but I had to comment to say THANK YOU. I work in a web design/development firm, and everyone around me always has the latest gadget, the newest toy. Everyone here just loves Kindles and e-reading gadgets and no one can figure out why I don’t like them. For me, reading is a hugely visual and tactile experience, just as you said. Part of reading for me is saying, “Which page did so-and-so say that?” and I remember because I remember how far it was in the book and whether it was on the left or right. It’s also the cover (definitely the cover), the feel of the pages, the font, the margins… everything! Maybe it’s because I’m in user experience, but I just adore the feeling of a good book. Thanks for this – at least I’m not the only one.

  • Reply Bron November 25, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree! I simply love printed books and I will grieve if they ever stop making them. I am an unashamed member of the book sniffers club!

  • Reply Giselle Medina November 27, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    So I’m here sitting in the Barnes & Noble break room, eating lunch while reading your blog. I can’t wait to clock back in to search for this book :).

    • Anna @ D16 November 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      I think it’s not out until February in the US!

  • Reply Rose November 27, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    I love the smell of old paper! I love the feel of holding a book in my hands. I love the way an abused old copy of something I’ve read many times bears the scars of the years.

  • Reply Merissa December 1, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I cannot say how moved I am by this post. I was a HUGE reader growing up, and I’m returning to reading now after drifting away from it during college. It was so nice to read this, especially now as I’m falling back in love with reading. Thank you.

  • Reply Jennifer December 26, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I thoroughly enjoy this kind of discussion, and thanks for the wonderful video link and information about Tree of Codes. Love!

    Call me middle-of-the-road, but I believe that paper and e-formats can coexist and be enjoyed by the same person, without need to engage in debate.

    I am a (former) librarian and mother of two young girls. We go to the library more than once a week, their books are everywhere in the house, we love reading, and a favorite past time is to explore the huge range of bookstores in this city. We live in Tokyo, and use our feet, bicycles, or trains to get where we need to go. I make a conscious effort to support bookstores, small and large.

    But I also have a Kindle and take it with me wherever I go. I travel with it, take it on the train, and slip it in my purse when I may want to read a couple of different books when I am out of the house, depending on my mood. I read more because of my Kindle, and that is just a fact. At this time in my life, in this place where I live, it fits my needs beautifully. If I could easily frequent English-language bookstores whenever I felt like I wanted to read a certain title, then my opinion might be different.

    I still buy paper books, and I always will. I want my daughters to read “real” books. I don’t need gadgets and distractions and glowing screens very much, so the Kindle is right for me. It is really the only “gadget” I own.

    It is possible to love paper books, buy paper books, and still use a device like a Kindle as a tool to read more, or different books from those to which I would normally be exposed.

    Is that all right?

  • Reply Vanessa L February 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    That book looks so interesting! How do you read it? Do you read only the words on that current page, or do you read every word you can see, not only on the current page, but on the pages underneath as well?

  • Reply Sublimation September 9, 2021 at 1:38 am

    I’m reading House of Leaves right now for an online book club, and I was reading this post thinking of how JSF’s book might be a nice follow when I finish. It’s sitting on my wishlist too!

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