Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Weighty Tome

I recently found a weighty tome in my mailbox-- a most impressive book by John Lutz of the History department with the title Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations, published by UBC Press in 2008. The topic is one none of us can ignore, living where we do, and a quick glance at the table of contents reveals that this will be a work that will reward a close reading -- something I hope to do before too long (although I won't be taking it backpacking with me, given its dimensions!).

But what really attracted my attention to John's book were the physical qualities of the book. It's more than simply asserting that UBC Press did a nice job of the binding and the paper. This is a book with design features that we don't often see in scholarly works (I should point out that the book stems from John's dissertation from a number of years back and that it has over 55 pages of notes and a bibliography of over 20 pages). First impressions are those of thinking that it is something of a textbook, even for high school classes maybe, and it could well be that it will find an audience there. But overall, I think that a misleading characterization and a reflection of my (and I suspect other people's) low expectations of the design of academic books these days. It's more than just the presence of illustrations (I have finally published an edited work that contains some pictures so I know what impact they alone can have) but it's to be seen in the use of multiple typefaces and font sizes, the use of quotes in outside margins, of boxed-text extracts, of detailed maps, of tables and charts -- things that simply makes this book a delight to contemplate and provide so many places to dip into the subject matter. O that all publishers would take such pride in their work and that we as authors would not feel the pressures of needing to publish quickly and the publisher's need to recap their investment in us ever sooner so that the joys of the physical properties of the book could be experienced more often!

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