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Penguin Classics, Ron Arad and The Idiot

· 16 December 2006 |  by Janantoon
· Published in: boeken verzamelen · English texts  |  1 Comment

The IdiotI love books. This should be obvious to anyone who already visited my site. But I love books in the first place because I like to read them. Of course, the book as physical object matters a lot to me too. Just have a look at my books about books.
If a publisher cares to combine fine paper, excellent typography, a sensible layout, a good and attractive binding and a good text in one volume, then I’ll almost certainly buy that book. Almost, because in the first place the content has to be of interest to me.

This makes me a collector, but not an obsessive one. I’m not one of those guys that only collect first prints. I couldn’t care less.
Let me give an example. Years ago I read Michael Ondaatje’s lovely novel The English Patient in a hardback edition I borrowed from the library. Later I bought the novel in a paperback edition and reread it. And still later (probably at the time of the movie) I gave the paperback to my son and bought — thanks to Abebooks — a very fine hardback edition. Certainly not a first print: it was first printed in 1992 and this volume was published in 1999 by Alfred A. Knopf (the 24th printing!) But it is a very lovely volume and it even gives information on the typeface: Fairfield by Rudolph Ruzicka.

The IdiotBut sometimes, sometimes, I let myself be seduced by a special edition or a special occasion. So when Penguin Classics published a special limited edition series to celebrate its 60th anniversary, I was very interested. This series was special because they republished five classic novels and asked leading designers — not bookmakers — to create a new edition. Every designer had to create a luxurious hardback which would be presented in an acrylic slipcase. The Guardian published in its Saturday Arts Review of Ocober, 28, 2006 an article about the five volumes.
Penguin has always had a lot of attention for the design of its books and attracted many well-known typographers and book designers. Phil Baines wrote an excellent book about it: Penguin by Design, A Cover Story 1935-2005.

I was attracted to Ron Arad’s version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. And again, the content came first. I liked to read Dostoyevsky many years ago, but I never read The Idiot. There was scant information about the book, but Arad’s creation looked very daring to me. So I bought it, blindly. And here it is: number 447 of 1000.

With his design, Ron Arad is very modern and at the same times he goes back to the first days of printing. First, he doesn’t use an acrylic slipcase, he makes a box of it. And the cover of the box is made out of a Fresnel lens. When you look at the cover you can see the four edges of the book block in a distorted way. The book block itself is suspended within the box and looks like a precious thing in a jewel box.
The book block is bound in a traditional way, you can see all the threads like for a hardback edition, but it has no front or back cover.
Surprisingly, this feature goes back to customs in the 16th century. Books were often bought this way — bound but without covers — and it was left to the buyer’s discretion to let the book bind in the way he preferred (or could afford). And the way this book block is presented in its box makes me think of those ancient bibles protected by wooden covers with leather finishing and copper locks.
Ron Arad is a designer, known for several chairs and certainly for his Bookworm bookcase. More information about him on designboom.

So, I’m the happy owner of this fine book object. But I’m afraid it will be difficult to read on a train.


One Comment

  1. Terry says:

    My copy of Ron Arad’s The Idiot just arrived and I am thrilled to own this. I love the look and the feel. Do you know if it is supposed to open up? I dared not pry too hard on the box, but it certainly doesn’t seem to want to open easily. I’m not concerned if it does not open, but would really like to know if it can. Thank you.