Book Review: The Art Of The Book

The Art Of The Book:  From Medieval Manuscript To Graphic Novel, edited by James Bettley

When this book claims it is the art of the book, it takes this extremely literally.  This is a book not about the design of books as much as it is about art.  Specifically, this book is about the art of the books that are a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The sort of audience that would most appreciate this book is the sort of audience that appreciates the aesthetics of older books and contemporary graphic fiction.  This audience does exist, it should be noted.  There are some people who really love to read coffee table books [1] , and there are others who enjoy reading old because because the artistic value of the woodblock drawings [2].  These people will greatly enjoy this book, as this book is gorgeous, and full of beautiful art, and also worthwhile in terms of its text, if you are the sort of person who likes books about books [3].  So, what we have here is a coffee table book that likely required some sort of subsidization and also is for people who love books of high artistic merit while also being a book of artistic merit itself.

The book contains nine chapters and takes up around 200 pages.  The first chapter looks at decorated pages starting from the Middle Ages and moving forward from there.  After this the author takes a look at the skill o f 19th century book illustration and book bindings. The author then discusses documentary manuscripts which are of importance for historical reasons and not necessarily aesthetic reasons.  The author then looks at children’s books and cartoons, some of them focused on adults.  The closing of the book is three chapters on poetry and experimental typography [4], book art, and contemporary art and publishing, which focuses our attention on the hipster appeal of a great deal of contemporary art before giving some suggestions for future reading, for those readers who are most interested in it.  There are apparently other books for this particular library, and I would actually enjoy reading them, as well as at least some of the books discussed and shown within this book’s pages.

There are some flaws in this book, it should be noted.  For one, the author contradicts himself when he claims for political reasons that the Italians became proficient in book binding because they copied the Arabs while next saying that they had copied the Byzantines, without showing that the Arabs had been the source of Byzantine skill in this particular field.  Contradicting oneself over the course of one sentence is a rare achievement (57).  The hipster attitude of this book is something that may drive off many readers.  At any rate, this is a book that is written by an intensely literate person who enjoys art from an aesthetic point of view and not necessarily a moral point of view, and whose view of book art presented depends on the holdings of one single library.  One has to wonder if the purpose of this book is not so much to present the full span of book art, which would be a daunting challenge for any book, but rather to drum up business for the library from whose holdings the books discussed in this book come.  If that is the case, one wonders why the author chose such a massive and cosmic title to discuss what is rather provincial and somewhat narrow.  Even so, it’s a gorgeous book, and if one happens to be in the South Kennsington area of England, it would probably be worth a trip to check out the library.  I’ve been known to enjoy spending my time with books every now and again, after all.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: The Art Of The Book

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Oregon Coast | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Oregon II | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Living Like We Were Dying | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Portrait Revolution | Edge Induced Cohesion

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