A Hard Case

Update: Now, with pictures!

All right, kids. You like details? Here are some details.

Pick up three hardcover books, preferably from different publishers, and remove the dust jackets. Look at the spines. Do you see the title, author, and publisher’s name or logo stamped on each spine in metallic foil? Probably. Are the colors of the foil different—e.g., one’s silver, one’s gold, one’s copper? Right. Somebody picked those. And actually there are many shades of silver, gold, and copper to choose from—not to mention colored metallics and matte colors. Somebody designed the stamp—a die—to print the spine, too. Some publishers like to have it complement the interior design; others like for it to echo the jacket.

Spines of three of the more interestingly bound books in my possession. The top is from 1816. The middle is undated but probably from 1900 or 1901, based on cues in the content; it’s blind-stamped. The bottom is from 1954 and has raised cords.
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Making Castoff

Last week I attended a reunion of people who used to work at a certain nonprofit literary organization. Some are in publishing now, many are writers, and all are bookish people who buy and read books—past page 18—regularly. Yet I was asked several times, while catching up with folks, what it is that a book interior designer does. “So, like, you pick the fonts?”

I am used to being asked this question by normal people, civilians, but I expect more from those who read and promote literature. One friend who asked if I pick the fonts is now the executive director of a literary organization whose mission is to promote reading, an organization that publishes its own series of books. I attacked him—“You, of all people! Haven’t you ever looked at a book from Knopf and noticed that it looks nicer than one from [earnest but tasteless poetry publisher]? Haven’t you ever noticed that some books are more inviting or more readable than others?”

Apparently not.

I’m feeling my way around at the new job and having to actually think about what I’m doing from time to time, so now seems like a good moment to try to put into words what I do. I learned to do what I do from reading books (crazy!) and Just Fucking Doing It, so my methods may not be the most scientific and I may not be able to explain them very succinctly, but I’ll try to touch on the basics.
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