Saturday, October 23, 2010

Joy 27/82: Beautiful Books

In today's world when electronic books are outselling paper books, it's a challenge to remember the days when books were created slowly, by hand, by the finest graphic artists of the time. But, the pendulum of change continuously swings and two recently published books make me wonder if the plethora of mass-produced, minimally designed books has created a pull back toward beauty and ornamentation. Here are the two examples of this pull and I would love to hear about others.

I Wonder by Marian Bantjes -- this beautiful book is part philosophical musings, part graphic design manifesto. It is a joy to touch, to feel and to sink into ... slowly ... with wonder. Bantjes states: "Every single illustration is new, created for the book, and the content is not about my work (i.e. not a monograph), but instead combines graphic art with the written word, and lends my own contemplative but frequently amused voice to my observations of the world."

The graphics are whimsical (some made with macaroni), densely repetitive and incomprehensible (there are 10 pages called "Secrets" just waiting for a code-breaker), personal (several pages from her mother's daily journals which the family called "Mum's Brains," and reverently irreverent (in a section on Santa, she simplifies him to just a red triangle and a green square).

The Red Book by Carl Jung -- this anxiously awaited book written and illustrated by the Swiss psychiatrist is one of the most amazing books in existence. Begun as a journal in 1913 after a falling out with Sigmund Freud and as a way to confront the disturbing pre-war images that he was experiencing, every page, with its calligraphic writing and highly symbolic paintings, is a complete work of art based on his inner images. Biographer Barbara Hannah, who was close to Jung later in his life, said Jung "made it a rule never to let a figure or figures that he encountered leave until they had told him why they had appeared to him."

About the Red Book, Jung said:
The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
The N.Y. Times calls it the "holy grail of the unconscious and states:
This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.
Here is a brief video about the making of The Red Book.


  1. What a coincidence. My copy of Bantjes' "I Wonder" just came yesterday.

    I collect (or try to) artists' books. There are a number of wonderful presses that publish these. I tend to think the pull is more toward being hand-made. It certainly is for me. Plus, no two are alike. In a time when so much, including photography, is digital, to hold something hand-made is to appreciate and take joy in something special.

  2. And I have just order my copy of I Wonder.

    How wonderful we are all on the same page! Should I be surprised? :)