all things biblio


Book Design

Xylotheque, for word and plant geeks

I love interesting words. Their meaning, where they come from. When I came across a picture of a wooden book with the word xylotheque as a caption, I thought that I had better Google that one. Oh, what a treasure trove I found.

Xylotheque: from the Greek xylon (“wood”) and theke (“storing place”). Essentially, a book-shaped object made of wood, containing inside of it samples relating to the species of wood from which the book is made. Imagine an object that intercepts knowledge of botany and love of books, with a little crafting thrown in for good measure. A creative wooden book containing related treasures. I’m so excited. Too bad I’m a couple of centuries late to get in on the craze, but thanks to Google I can ooh and aah over these magical objects that existed primarily in turn of the 19th century Germany.

xylothek pine
“Pine” from the Berleburger xylotheque

The book is made of the wood of the tree, and inside are samples of moss, lichens, flowers, seeds, dried leaves, branches and bark. The compartment in the center contains a written description of the tree including its biology and practical use.

A library of trees. I want to touch every one of them.

xylothek strahov monastery
Strahov Monastery Xylothek in Prague
xiloteca manuel soler
Xiloteca Manuel Soler in Dania, Spain



Books Are Art, and How I’m Finding My Passion

I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always known that. I want my home to be filled with stacks and stacks. I can’t bear to loan them out for fear I won’t get them back. As a child I felt sorry for a friend whose mother only let her borrow five books at a time from the library when I used to take as many as I could carry. Used bookstores are treasure troves. What I’ve only recently realized is that my love of books includes a feeling that they are art, to be admired and appreciated beyond the words contained in them.

Books generally follow a standard formula – front and back covers, numbered chronological pages, artwork on the cover, author bio at the back, and so on. We read the words inside and derive meaning from them, often paying little attention to the other details of the actual physical book. Cover art is quickly forgotten. Does anyone look at a Table of Contents? (Ok, I do.) And what is even the point of that blurb about typeface at the back, does anyone read that?

What I love is when a book is more than just a vehicle for words – when the book as a whole becomes an object of art. I had my first realization that my love for books went beyond the words when my partner gave me a birthday gift that brought me to tears. He gave me The Thing The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object (looking for a gift for a true book lover? Go get this. Now.)

What brought tears to my eyes were three things:

  1. a sudden understanding that I loved books for books, for their actual physical selves
  2. that I wasn’t the only one! There were others who understood!
  3. that my partner knew all this about me before I did.

I treasure this book. I lovingly read and admired every bit and keep it on my bedside table. More important than the book itself is the path down which it led. I started researching how books are made, the art of bookbinding, and books as objects of art. I started this blog with the general theme of Books, not sure what it would turn into, and through working at it I’m slowly realizing hey, I might have found something I feel passionate about which is pretty freaking amazing. If that’s all I ever get out of this blog then it’s been well worth it already.

And I’ve made more discoveries. There are people who design books for a living! Irma Boom is a Dutch designer whose books are in the permanent collection at MoMA – how cool is that? (Read this Conversation with Irma Boom to learn about her amazing book designs). I’ve tried my own hand at same basic bookbinding, and even gifted a friend with blank handmade notebooks. I’ve discovered the Book Design Blog which is full of inspiration and just really interesting objects. I’m fascinated with the annual book arts event Bind-O-Ramas.

So. Books are beautiful. Book design is thrilling, to me anyway. If you have something you find yourself interested in, but you’re not sure what good it does, just start exploring. You might find other like-minded people exist and learn something about yourself. Maybe find a new hobby, narrow down your interests, learn about interesting people (explore new career possibilities?). Maybe someday you’ll find yourself thinking I could picture myself an artist.

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