A book too dangerous to even open

Alan Cleaver
moon 205x300 A book too dangerous to even open

Michael Moon - the future is in books

I’D be very surprised if you found a copy of Dr Fairer’s Book of Black Art in any bookshops but if you do, take care. Even in 1857 Jeremiah Sullivan admitted “Until very lately it was believed there was great danger in opening this book”.

Dr Fairer lived near Orton in the east of Cumbria in the 18th Century and his business lay in “circumventing witches, laying spirits, and in other kindred pursuits”. The book mostly covered aspects of astrology but Sullivan advised “his speculations about the man in the moon are not of a very advanced kind”. Sadly, it appears the book didn’t survive for I can find no reference to copies of it. However, it did illustrate to me one of the significant differences between ‘real’ books and ebooks: a certain magic.

Like most journalists, I’ve been putting together an article on the death of the book – or not – after the news that Amazon are now selling more ebooks than hardback books. Whitehaven antiquarian bookseller Michael Moon, as I suspected, was scathing. “If you’ve got a wobbly table you can’t put an ebook under the leg” he mocked. Mr Moon is celebrating 40 years in the book business. His emporium stretches seemingly for miles with room after room of wonderful books. And he’s currently looking for bigger premises. He’s in no doubt that the future of the book is safe.

I needed little convincing but what is it about a book that makes it so special? Like Dr Fairer’s Book of Black Art, there is something mystical about a bound, carefully typset and beautifully printed book. Toni Carver, proprietor of The St Ives Printing and Publishing Company and editor of Pressnews, is aware of this demand for quality books. His company printed colour plates for the handmade books of artist Andrew Lanyon. Andrew insists the text is set in metal type and printed letterpress. His book, Peter Lanyon, about his father, originally sold for £40 but now changes hands for about £1,000. It’s easy to see why: they are literally works of art.

Toni also mentions in his article in Pressnews something I’ve noticed: if you want a really colourful, exciting and magical book, look on the children’s shelves of your local bookshop. “For children too young to be techy” writes Toni “the print medium remains perfect”. Why should children have all the good books? Novels and reference books for adults are dull as ditchwater but any kids’ book has pop-ups, secret compartments and colour pictures on every page. There are modern book-binders who are showing readers how the book itself can be as exciting as the contents inside.  These links from The British Library give good examples such as Old Stile Press, Damp Flat Books and others.

Perhaps the ebook revolution will at least encourage publishers and printers to rediscover how rich and exciting books can and should be. For myself, I pray for the day when Bill Gates picks up a beautiful-bound book and declares, “Wow, this is amazing – the computer is doomed.”

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  • Paragluteus

    In this case his usage is odd. Is he telling us that recto is safer than verso ?

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