Well-thumbed books
October 31, 2018 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Maybe English-readers will enjoy little books with the spine on top (slNYT). They're already successful in the Netherlands. Perhaps fiction will evolve away from the doorstops again?
posted by clew (37 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well, they'll definitely look good on Instagram...
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:50 PM on October 31, 2018

I would read these
posted by nikaspark at 4:53 PM on October 31, 2018

They imply you can read these one-handed, but I'm not convinced... there's still no way to both hold it open and turn the page one-handed, in the picture they need an apple to hold it open, and the spines don't look particularly special to me. I would love to be proved wrong though! The reason I'm passionate about my kindle is it only requires one hand, after years of hand cramp trying to hold traditional paperbacks open and eat at the same time.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:21 PM on October 31, 2018 [14 favorites]

Agreed, stillnocturnal. These are cute, but I can’t see how they’d be more functional at all.
posted by greermahoney at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’ve always thought of this as “manifesto format”.
posted by q*ben at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I mean there's nothing wrong with it, exactly. I'm just opposed to all change, on principle.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:31 PM on October 31, 2018 [23 favorites]

I'll admit to really liking the small Picador Modern Classics that are in the first photo. I have them all and wish they'd do more.
posted by dobbs at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just last week, I bought a 1930 edition of Webster’s International Dictionary. The thing is about 3000 pages and it must weigh close to 25 pounds. So I’m probably not the best person to opine on the merits of teeny, one-handed codices.

For my part, if I’m concerned with space, I’ll use a digital copy and read it on my phone or iPad. If I want a physical copy (for example, in case Skynet takes over all digital media-reading devices), then I want it large enough to read without being fiddly, and using both hands probably isn’t a dealbreaker.

Unless...maybe if you needed to read a physical book with one hand while using your other hand to shoot at a T-1000 hunter/killer. In which case, these little books might be just the thing. But I could also just use the 1930 Webster’s to bash the Terminator flat, anyway, so...

Nevertheless, if folks are buying them, then there must be something they like about them.
posted by darkstar at 6:00 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

You know what's great for reading one-handed? Ebooks. You can read 'em in the dark, too—great for falling asleep. Reading in the dark was the killer app for me ebooks-wise.

Couldn't you turn the pages by just flipping them up with your thumb, though?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:00 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Well there’s the standing on a bus use case, for one.
posted by Artw at 6:08 PM on October 31, 2018

I immediately want every book in this format.
posted by silby at 6:23 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Suspicious that none of the photos actually show people using them.
posted by Telf at 6:37 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

English-language paperbacks tend to come in all sorts of weird sizes; couldn't they first standardize on something like 11x18 cm?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:39 PM on October 31, 2018

I'm all for anything that makes pocket books pocket size again.
posted by hoodrich at 6:44 PM on October 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

Here's a video of one being held, which also provides a delightful ASMR shiver for native English speakers:

Dwarsligger ad (in Dutch, I think)

Pretty easy to hold it in one hand and flip pages with your thumb (which is something I do with "normal" books without much fanfare when reading at mealtimes, even big ol' hardbacks which admittedly cause serious wrist pain).
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:49 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Duodecimos for the win.
posted by Hypatia at 6:57 PM on October 31, 2018

I immediately want every book in this format.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:05 PM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

Is this that new? I've gone yard saling and seen similar things from the early 20th century designed for soldiers, although they were slimmer volumes.
posted by codacorolla at 7:10 PM on October 31, 2018

I've had a number of these, old Nero Wolfe novels. They were either meant for sending overseas to soldiers or to conserve paper (the margins were usually very slim). They included a very solemn assurance: "NOT ONE SINGLE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED."
posted by praemunire at 7:27 PM on October 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

Oh look, publishers are trying to reinvent pulp novels - something cheap, convenient and disposable. Only, "cheap and convenient" is not going to mean "on paper: for the majority of readers in the future, and "disposable" (in the sense of, "not gonna keep it forever" rather than "throw away after a single use") isn't necessary for ebooks.

There's definitely a market for these, and it might even be separate from the market for standard paperbacks. But I don't think it's actually going to siphon off readers who'd otherwise be using an ereader or a phone, except for a few who want to grab something to read when they're going on vacation away from wifi.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:29 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just want to know where I can buy that special ultra thin opaque white paper that comes from one mill in Finland.
posted by Seaweed Shark at 7:40 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I once had a connecting flight in Amsterdam and the gentleman who sat next to me on the plane (a native from Amsterdam) was reading one of these. This was in the bad old days when they made you turn off ALL electronics during takeoff —even eReaders— and so for about 20 minutes I was insanely jealous of his tiny one-hand book that allowed him to blissfully continue reading through the duration of the flight.

Buuuuuuut now I have eBooks on my iPhone and I’m not so jealous anymore. These are cute, and paper is nice, but the words are more important to me. My phone lets me take my entire library with me everywhere, that’s way cooler and more useful to me.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:41 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

I love books, any books, and the idea of a new format is exciting to me. But then I remember that I read about these things on Boing Boing seven years ago. (Yes, yes, I know NO TRUE MEFITE should read Boing Boing-- I am not one of the cool kids here.)

I kept waiting for them to become a thing, and then never heard anything else. It looks like in that first 2010-2011 promotional push they sold some in the UK, but the remnants of that time for sale on Ebay in the UK are either too expensive (Jane Austen) or books I don't really want to read (Chris Cleave, Jodi Picoult, David Nichols).

And since this is the beginning of the American rollout, they aren't for sale here yet, despite claims of Barnes and Noble and Walmart stocking them. If history holds true, by the time they reach the West Coast, I will have forgotten about them again. The reality is that I do 95% or more of my reading on ebooks today, anyway.
posted by seasparrow at 7:49 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eh, just another fad to sell something*, IMO.

* Although selling books is not a bad thing to do. We don't need 'disposable' books, though.

Publishers, do NOT shrink the print!!
If you're lucky, you too will reach 65, and presbyopia is not funny.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:21 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

My parents have several novels and short story collections in mini-paperback form (paperback bunko) optimized for subway reading from when we lived in Japan in the late 80s. They have standard vertical binding but similarly lightweight onionskin paper, and unlike the examples in this article are split into multiple volumes when over a certain length. I can’t seem to find any photos online which show them to scale, but they’re just under 6 inches tall, four inches wide, and very comfy to read! I wish we had more of them, so I’d be totally down with this idea coming into fashion in the Anglosphere.
posted by bettafish at 8:36 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Re: bunko, I found a comparison image between the same book in the different formats. I love the bunko size! Book sizes in Japan are more or less standardized, too, so you can buy cute covers for them.

I tried finding the little books from the article online, but had no luck; are they in-store only? They're adorable
posted by lesser weasel at 8:59 PM on October 31, 2018

I've gone yard saling and seen similar things from the early 20th century designed for soldiers, although they were slimmer volumes.

So with, eh, like a landsloop or dirtdinghy?

[gear turns]

posted by notyou at 10:50 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Publishers tried to introduce them in France several years ago, and it went about as well as a lead balloon. A few years later, you could find them with 2€ stickers just to get rid of the stock.
posted by snakeling at 2:19 AM on November 1, 2018

I'm curious to try these. I definitely would have bought one for a recent flight where I was kindle-less and packed so tightly that a trade paperback was a real hardship to shove in my carryon. (I don't like to read books on my phone, it bugs my eyes.)

The three other use-cases that jumped to mind were:
1) A collection of children's poems, or short stories for children, or several picture books in one book, that I could carry in my purse and turn over to my kids when we're stuck in a waiting room and they're getting whiney.

2) The sort of inspirational book that you frequently re-read or consult. The Bible is the obvious one but there's plenty of those; I'm thinking more like Teresa of Avila, or a collection of poems for times of struggle, or Annie Dillard, or insert your own beloved book of comfort. It'd be really nice if there were some high-quality literary inspirational stuff from a broad-based cultural backgrounds in this format, instead of just the low-rent evangelical Christian crap you currently find in pocket formats. I suppose it's unlikely, but I can dream. The sort of book-as-talisman you carry for comfort/support/inspiration.

3) In high school and especially college I definitely would have carried one of these around in my purse or backpack -- I was carrying so MANY textbooks that a novel was a bit of an imposition, but I often needed one to read at lunch or when waiting for a professor at office hours or whatever. And I hated to carry unnecessary electronics (because your backpack gets knocked around a lot and you are living on a student budget without the cash to replace a lost kindle). If they had had these at the college bookstore or the student union, ideally priced around $5, I'm positive people would have bought them and instituted a trading box in the dorm lounge. And actually YA fiction would have been ideal -- the books in the dorm trading boxes in highest demand were always trashy romance novels and YA fiction, because they're fast, satisfying reads that don't make enormous intellectual demands, which is what you want in a relaxation novel when you're working through Brothers Karamazov or Proust-but-in-French for class.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:21 AM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have that edition of Jesus' Son. I kinda love it; it fits in my purse easily and is easy to read when I'm hanging onto a subway pole. I'll admit I bought it because I thought it was one of the cutest things I'd ever seen.
posted by holborne at 11:15 AM on November 1, 2018

What a coincidence. I literally spent an hour last night in InDesign trying to figure out how to make a horizontally bound half-letter sized 2up saddle bound zine. (There's no option for it but there's an easy shortcut, prep it as a side bound booklet but select your pages -> View -> Rotate Spread while working)

We're still testing but the reason it came up for us is the format feels more expansive. Normal book layout feels like you're focused on one page at a time while the horizontal layout gives you that full sheet of paper feel.
posted by tychotesla at 11:52 AM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have some paperbacks printed on thinner-than-usual paper, and when you open them they stay open by themselves because the thin pages are less stiff. You don't have to break the spine. The paper "flows", if that makes sense. So I can easily imagine that these books can be used one-handed (if the pages are small enough that you can flip them with your thumb without tearing them).

I find this format appealing because it's compact -- I hate hardcovers because they take up so much space. I approve of anything that could decrease the size of the dead tree section of my collection. Not sure how I feel about the orientation. I'd definitely get some to try out if they were available.
posted by confluency at 12:16 PM on November 1, 2018

I would love to see one of these in person - I get the sense that it's a tactile enough thing that it's hard to fully evaluate without seeing the size, paper, typesetting, etc. for real.
posted by mosst at 12:34 PM on November 1, 2018

I agree that large hardcover books can be pretty cumbersome at times, so I’m all for a smaller format (as long as the type isn’t reduced in size as well.) I really don’t understand what advantage the flipped format has, though. Or, perhaps, what problem it’s trying to solve. I sense it somehow has more to do with some problem in fitting text on the smaller pages (and keeping it legible and not use just as much paper as the big books), rather than some magical, amazing leap in how people read a book after all these centuries of bookmaking.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:20 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I once bought one of those, equivalent to a 1000 page doorstop. It is so tiny that it spent weeks in a side-pocket of my backpack without me noticing it.

The size argument is an important one. It means that you can have book always with you, in physical form, without it being a burden or hassle.

Really, these things are brilliant. I buy a couple at the Amsterdam Airport (Schiphol) every time I come through.
posted by victotronics at 12:52 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I picked one of these up, John Green's "Paper Towns." I'm only so-so interested in John Green's work, but I wanted to give the format a try. It's an extremely pleasing object and it's extremely small! The paper is high-enough quality it has survived my children's examinations (including the toddler's) -- it's such an intriguing little object my kids can't seem to leave it alone.

Text/spacing is easy to read and pleasant. I can't quite manage the one-hand page turn except occasionally, but it is pretty easy and comfortable to hold. Maybe I need to lick my thumb or something to get a grip on the paper to turn one-handed? Turning the pages is actually the hardest part of the whole enterprise for me since the pages are so thin and my fingers are a bit clumsy.

One of my kids is having surgery next week so I have a lot of hours of sitting around, so I'll take it to the hospital with me and give it a go for some longer, focused reading and see how I feel turning many pages and reading at a small scale for a long time.

It's totally convenient for carrying in a purse -- it's lighter than my phone (in its case) and only a little wider. But I do feel like I'd only occasionally read novels in this format -- when traveling or to have on hand in my purse -- but I would definitely read the heck out of short-story collections in this format, works that you dip in and out of for short periods, and I DEFINITELY want a children's treasury in this format, I would use that ENDLESSLY and give it as a gift to every parent I know.

I will report back after taking it as my hospital book!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

These are the most modern of books because you be reading one in one hand while holding a cellphone in the other. (just saw some in an airport bookshop, charming to hold, they didn't have the one title I want to read so I don't know about long-term use).

I'm surprised that the thin tough flexible paper is so hard to find, because it reminded me a *lot* of the paper in Chinese books of a while ago, which also were often read with half the pages curled around the spine.
posted by clew at 2:31 PM on November 11, 2018

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