Inventive book design is not dead – Washington Post Book Club about “Library” by Susan Orlean

“The Library Book” author Susan Orlean. (Simon & Schuster; author photo by Noah Fecks)

People of the book. I adore Susan Orlean’s new book, “The Library Book.” It’s a wide-ranging, deeply personal and terrifically engaging investigation of humanity’s bulwark against oblivion: the library. (Read review here.) My editor, Steph Merry, tells me, “I’m never going to finish ‘The Library Book’ because every third page I find myself reading some section aloud to my husband.” One thing I didn’t mention in my review was how charming the physical design of this book is. Simon & Schuster editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler tells me that Orlean came up with the idea of beginning each chapter with card catalogue entries. That inspired her agent to suggest making “The Library Book” look like “an old-school library book without a jacket.” Brilliant idea — difficult to achieve. “We talked about using real cloth on the outside, but Susan also wanted the front of the book to look kind of distressed, and it turns out that’s not possible with cloth,” Ferrari-Adler says. “The art department figured out a way to use paper, which we could print on and make look scuffed up. They also put a thousand little points of embossment on the underside of the paper to give it the texture of cloth.” But there were still more challenges: “Not having a jacket means no place for jacket copy, but we had to describe the book somewhere, so we started thinking about the front endpapers as the place to do that.” Then associate editor Julianna Haubner suggested putting a check-out pocket and card on the back endpapers.” Designer Lauren Peters-Collaer pulled all those ideas together to create a book that’s just as clever on the outside as it is on the inside.

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