Comeback Requested: Illuminated Manuscripts

Meister des Maréchal de Boucicaut. Source:
Meister des Maréchal de Boucicaut. Source:

When we moved to Philadelphia, I had to leave most of my books back in Brooklyn, never to be seen again. I had a fairly large library so it was a little painful to whittle my collection down to just the essentials.

The determining factors in keeping a book included:

  • hardcover / relatively decent quality
  • beautiful illustrations
  • guides and trade books for work and writing
  • a favorite read
  • useful for the Pumpkin at a later time
  • sentimental

This same criteria govern any new books that come into the house and keeps the quantity of books at a reasonable level. However, it doesn’t mean I don’t read a lot. Thankfully, we have a local library I rely on and my mom passes along books regularly. In a small house, libraries, and people who will loan their books, are very much appreciated!

Short on space? What about an e-reader, you ask?

Well, for one thing, it’s not in the budget. And for me, there is just something about holding a proper book in one’s hands. I like the smell of old books, the turning of the pages, being able to see progress, and not being dependent on battery life. An electric device is just cold, which is an odd thing for a web professional to say but it’s true.

Of course, there are benefits to an e-reader. So many books taking up such a little space. You can get really cute covers for them. Although it’s tempting, I’d feel like the house was a bit naked without a library, albeit a small one.

When our house was built, libraries were for the comfortably situated or above. The average person might have a volume or two, perhaps a bible or something similar, but not hundreds of books. Go back further and your average person, especially women, were lucky if they could read at all. Go back further still, and books were rather rare indeed. Given the special nature of such a treasure, many medieval books were illuminated, or decorated with illustrations and fancy calligraphy. These texts are works of art, both in word and image.

Which brings me to the topic at hand; quality over quantity.

I often wonder if the e-book is the death knell of the cheaply produced book. Why buy something that’s subject to age and disintegration? Some of my favorite books, bought during my college years, are falling apart, and that wasn’t that long ago. Providing the files are backed up, it would appear that e-books can last forever and are a much better investment. I’m sure the trees would be happy to be spared; think of all the paper saved! And, considering the current trend in downsizing one’s space, having a lot of books in a small device is very attractive.

It’s a convincing argument and perhaps, even I could be converted, in regards to the non-important volumes I’ll only read once.

So, I would propose that publishers discontinue making the cheap mass produced books that only fall apart. Save trees, save space in the home, save space in the landfills where the cheapo books inevitably end up. Do a limited run for public libraries so they’re accessible to everyone. But for the private library, bring back high-quality, decorative and illustrated versions of favorite books, printed on-demand or in limited quantities.

As much as it’s nice to know that books are so common, we take them for granted, it would be even nicer to see books return to being works of art.


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