Friday, March 14, 2014

Experimental books

Some things stay the same for a long time, while others are in a continuous change and evolution. For example, who would have thought that television will not change all that much in the way we perceive and use it? On the other hand, cell phones have started as mere talking devices, which now have all the capabilities one could ever imagine. Another thing that has changed tremendously in the last two decades is the celebrity status. The celebrities today are not treated at all like their predecessors, nor do they get their badges based on real merits (this is how in our culture there are people famous for being famous). And books? They have not changed much since Gutenberg: they consist of the same parts, we use them the same way, no new features have been added. Yet, there are those who are trying to innovate within the limitations of the medium. A good example of challenging the traditional, repetitive layout of the novel is Love and the Mess We're In by Steven Marche, winner in the Prose Fiction category of the Alcuin Book Awards, and shortlisted for the Best Book Design From All Over the World at Leipzig. The author collaborated with the typographer Andrew Steeves to create innovative designs for each page that adds a strong visual component to the textual story.

The 2012 Alcuin Design Competition

Another type of experiment, Tristano, by Nanni Balestrini, is based on an algorithm. It has ten chapters each with fifteen pairs of paragraphs, which have been randomly shuffled to create the book. Tristano was originally published in 1966, but the technology to make this project possible as its author intended is only now available. The published version is just one of the billion variations possible.

Marc Saporta's Composition No 1 takes the experiment a step further: the book consists of 150 unbound pages. In this case the reader can create his or her own combination, and it is hard to come up with two versions alike. Ironically, the two copies of the French edition to be found in the British Library are bound, but each in a different order. The new British version from Visual Editions comes in a beautiful box with a red interior, in a smooth texture -- impossible to replicate in an electronic format.

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