This week marked the release of Chris Ware’s unbelievably wonderful graphic novel Building Stories , which we (and everyone else) have been awaiting with bated breath for many months. The graphic publishing event of the year, the book is truly a world you can get lost in, and decidedly not one that you can appreciate on an e-reader — or even on your computer. Inspired by Ware’s effort, we’ve collected a short list of books that will restore your faith in the power of the printed book (if you ever wavered, that is). Click through for a series of books that take full advantage of their inherent bookishness, and if we’ve missed your favorite example of book-as-art-object, be sure to add it to our list in the comments.
Building Stories , Chris Ware
Ware’s graphic novel in a box — a set containing 14 separate parts — is a total triumph, an immersive story that you can literally (well almost) immerse yourself in. The book recommends places to leave its many pages, but like life, you can pretty much make it up as you go along.
Tree of Codes , Jonathan Safran Foer
We’ve all heart of books as art object, but books as sculptural objects? As Foer’s London-based publisher Visual Editions explains it, “Jonathan Safran Foer has taken his favorite book, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at an original new story.” It’s not a completely new idea, but it is beautifully, wonderfully done here, in a book that doesn’t feel like a gimmick, but like a revolution.
Atlas of Remote Islands , Judith Schalansky
Atlases of all kinds — especially huge gilded ones — tend to have us marveling at the beauty of print, but we’re particularly fond of this one, subtitled Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will, and knock-out beautiful. Indeed, it won German Arts Foundation Prize for the Most Beautiful Book of the Year in 2009 — but more importantly, it has an Invisible Cities air about it, though the islands are all factual, and it’s one of those books whose pages you rub between your fingers before you turn them.
Nox , Anne Carson
After the death of Carson’s older brother, she began to put together a notebook — a collection of memories that she calls an “epitaph.” Incorporating photographs, poems, collages, paintings, and even a letter her brother once wrote, and roughed up with stains and other evidence of real life, the notebook — reproduced in full-color, accordion-style, and delivered in a slate gray box — feels like a secret artifact, a singular window into a family, even if you know you bought it on Amazon.
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Mommy? , Maurice Sendak
Pop-up books by their very nature fit into this category (until we advance to hologram e-readers), but this one is a little something special. After all, the 2D versions of Maurice Sendak’s books leap off their pages, so just imagine what the man can do with a few moving parts.
Tristram Shandy , Laurence Sterne
Hear us out, ye with graduate school scars. From the same publisher as Safran Foer’s book comes an updated version of Tristram Shandy that is probably unlike any you’ve seen before, an antidote to the fact that, as they put it, they book “has long been relegated to the realm of cheap and nasty classic editions and has lost its magic and lustre along the way.” The result is highly contemporary, irreverent and very lovely.
House of Leaves , Mark Z. Danielewski
You knew this one, right? Though the original edition grew out of Internet postings, it’s fair to say it grew beyond the nebulous confines of the Internet, something we tend to think of as infinite. Danielewski’s masterpiece is a dark wormhole of literary exploration, that, while often maddening to read (all that spinning around on your lap), is definitely worth the effort. A classic of contemporary ergodic literature and a brilliant work of art besides.
One Red Dot , David A. Carter
One more pop-up book and we’ll consider the genre pretty well represented. The first in Carter’s series of gorgeous “pop-up books for children of all ages,” each page is a gorgeous and remarkably ambitious work of art in and of itself.
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
So we know, we know, this isn’t a book, per se, it’s a periodical. But each one is so beautifully crafted and so out-of-the-box (unless it’s literally in a box), and so reliably filled with good fiction that we’re counting it. If that doesn’t satisfy you, you can browse through one of the publishing house’s many books, which pretty much always have some of the greatest covers (and most tactilely pleasing) of the year.
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Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence , Nick Bantock
If you’d be thrilled at the idea of picking through the mail of two artists engaged in a tempestuous love affair (and um, who wouldn’t?), this book is for you. The epistolary romance literally plays out in your hands — extraordinary indeed.