The day the Kindle was released, pundits announced the death of print. Sure, maybe a few technophobic geezers or ironic hipsters would cling onto “dead trees,” but print was about to be quickly tossed in the dustbin of media format history. The argument is still made on a regular basis. Yet six years later, e-books have not cracked 25% of the market and the growth has dropped precipitously.
People like physical books, it turns out. They like them more than they liked CDs or Betamax tapes. Books feel nice. You can flip back and forth in them. They look awesome on a shelf. Hell, they even smell nice. Kindles are good too, especially on long trips where you don’t want to weigh your bag down with a dozen books. But print books can do many things that e-books simply can’t.
Not only have e-books not killed print books yet, they’ve actually made them better by pushing publishers to give readers a reason to buy print over digital. More and more publishers are doing beautiful and innovative things with design, layout, illustration, and cover art. Here are 19 books from 2013 that you’ll want to hold in your hands.
1. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
Wonderbook is appropriately titled. This wondrous guide to fantasy and science fiction writing is filled to the brim with illustrations, maps, diagrams, and charts that make it essential to see and touch on paper. Also included are interviews, exercises, and excerpts from writers such as George R. R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Peter Straub, and Lev Grossman. What more could a science fiction fan want?
2. This Is How You Lose Her (Deluxe Edition) by Junot Diaz
In a move that will likely be common in a few years, Junot Diaz’s latest book was published in three print versions: hardcover, paperback, and deluxe slipcase. It’s a smart model for publishers, allowing hardcore fans to support authors they love well receiving something special in return. Diaz’s deluxe edition features illustrations from the comic great Jaime Hernandez.
3. Penguin Drop Caps
Another trend we’re seeing more of is publishers repackaging classic texts in exciting collectable editions. The Penguin Drop Caps series, a collaboration between design extraordinaire Jessica Hische and Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley, consists of 26 canonical books by classic authors (A for Jane Austen, B for Charlotte Brontë, etc.) in a rainbow of colors. The series is currently up to P for Marcel Proust.
4. Penguin Horror series curated by Guillermo del Toro
Similar to the Drop Caps series, here Penguin got celebrated director and horror buff Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) to curate a series of spooky classics. The books, which were designed and illustrated by Paul Buckley, are hardcover, embossed, and edge-stained in black.
5. Illustrated Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (with art by Matt Kish)
Tin House is reenergizing classics in a different way: adding full color illustrations for each page of text. Tin House kicked this off in 2011 with Matt Kish illustrating every page of Moby Dick. Now they’ve brought his hauntingly awesome art to Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece. Next year, Allen Crawford will illustrate Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
6. The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius by Jennifer George
You’ve definitely seen Rube Goldberg machines (most recently in the viral GoldieBlox ad), but you might not know the artist’s original work. This awesome book, written by Goldberg’s granddaughter, will catch you up to speed. Bonus: The cover animates a Rube Goldberg contraption with a slide of your finger!
7. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel by David Rakoff
David Rakoff’s latest novel—parts of which appeared on NPR’s This American Life—features an awesome design by Chip Kidd and illustrations by Seth.
8. Map of Days by Robert Hunter
Nobrow Press has been killing it in the comics world the last few years. Its books are consistently among the most beautifully designed, and the artists it publishes are spectacular. My favorite 2013 Nobrow book is Map of Days, a brightly illustrated and moving story printed in an unusual size.
9. The Desert Places by Ambers Sparks, Robert Kloss, and Matt Kish
Hip readers already know that much of the best new fiction comes from indie presses. It shouldn’t be a surprise that innovative small presses, such as Chicago’s Curbside Splendor, also have some of the best designs. This pocket-size, illustrated book is a read you’ll remember.
10. Song Reader by Beck
Song Reader technically came out in December 2012, but I’m going to include it because it’s awesome. Instead of releasing his new music in, well, music form, Beck decided to publish his latest album as a collection of sheet music. The sheets come with gorgeous color illustrations from artists like Marcel Dzama and Leanne Shapton. Song Reader will challenge your notion of what an album or a book can be.
11. The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems by Emily Dickinson
Need a gift for a poetry fan in your family? How about this gorgeous edition of Dickinson’s envelope poems that includes full-color, life-size reproductions of each envelope writing?
12. S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
Lost creator J.J. Abrams is famous for his love of mystery and his attention to detail, so it’s no surprise his novel (written with Doug Dorst) is packed with both. S. is a metafictional mystery filled with marginalia, photos, newspaper clippings, and other documents for readers to marvel at and puzzle over. As the Chicago Tribune put it, S. is “a possessor of wonders that cannot be translated into digital bits.”
13. Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers by Becky Cooper
Becky Cooper had a pretty cool idea: Walk around New York with blank maps of Manhattan and ask strangers to fill them in. The varied results are reprinted in this neat little book.
14. Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow: Essays by Andy Sturdevant
Coffee House Press has been putting out great books for over 20 years, and its profile has been rising in recent years with books like Ben Lerner’s highly acclaimed Leaving the Atocha Station. Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow is a collection of essays that contain photographs and drawings in the margins by the author.
15. Bough Down by Karen Green
Bough Down is a gripping memoir of grief and loss. Green’s husband, the author David Foster Wallace, committed suicide in 2008. The text is interspersed with Green’s own collage art. David Ulin called the book “an impressionistic miracle, an assemblage of short text fragments and collages by an artist trying to make sense of her husband’s suicide.”
16. Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook
Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures has one of the most iconic album covers ever. The hardcover design does justice to the dark, minimalist aesthetic of the legendary band. The memoir, written by the band’s bassist Peter Hook, was called “the most colorful and intimate account of Joy Division ever written” by MOJO magazine.
17. Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong
If you are someone who loves superheroes — and based on the box office returns for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, that’s most of you — you’ll want to get your hands on Tim Leong’s Super Graphic. Check out a sample of the book’s killer charts and graphs here.
19. Outside the Lines: An Artists’ Coloring Book for Giant Imaginations curated by Souris Hong-Porretta
There have been a ton of “adult” coloring books coming out recently, including Sex Position Coloring Book and Bun B’s Rapper Coloring and Activity Book. Outside the Lines takes it to a whole other level by getting contributions by some of the world’s leading artists. If you’ve ever wanted to color work by Ryan McGinness, Shepard Fairey, AIKO, or Keith Haring, now’s your chance! Check out some sample images here.
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