Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BOOKS: Looking a Gift Book in the Mouth

Nobody ever talks about this, but coffee table books are the real reason why technology will never usurp the printed page.

Don't get me wrong, now: I love me some fancy-pants gizmos that will let me read books on the fly. Why, back in my days in the fast-paced world of internet consulting -- aaaaaalllllll the way back at the tail end of the last millennium -- I used to regularly load up my Palm Pilot with eBooks such as Sense and Sensibility or Peter Pan so that I could read while in line at the bank or during boring meetings. I can't even tell you how hard I worked to rationalize (ultimately unsuccessfully) to myself the necessity of buying a RocketBook. I guess I saved myself a few hundred bucks in the long run, but just think of the nostalgic value I deprived myself.

That's right. You're looking at a nerd who comes in two flavours. Don't pretend you're not one yourself.

At the same time, of course, I love the tactile nature of books. Books have a nice heft to them, and they smell good. I don't have many gadgets about which I could say the same.

But all that aside, if you sort of squint your eyes and make your vision go blurry just so, you can
sort of see the argument that technology could render paper books obsolete. If Star Trek: The Next Generation is to be believed, we'll all be walking around with the complete folios of William Shakespeare on digital tablets.

But Gene Roddenberry never took into consideration coffee table books. Gorgeous covers and binding... slick, heavy, oversized pages... lavish photography and illustrations... I challenge the techie nerds to come up with a device that can compete with a well-executed coffee table book. Do you hear that, techie nerds? I challenge you!

The other great thing about coffee table books, aside from their sensuous production values, is that they make awesome gifts. I give a lot of coffee table books. I get a lot of coffee table books. And you can tell a lot about what somebody thinks about you by the coffee table books they give you.

Some recent-ish examples:

Holy crap, did someone say "lavish?" Because I've got your lavish right here. A beloved co-worker gave me this glorious Taschen book (the godmother and godfather of coffee table books) at my baby shower last spring. It's jam-packed with breathtaking photos of spas from around the world. Not only is this a book I was destined to own, for a long time I believed it was a book I was destined to create, along with my close friend -- and fellow spa enthusiast -- The Fabulous Suzi.
What this gift says: You are a hedonist who's not going to be able to leave the house until 2018.

The Nature of Great Apes
Speaking of The Fabulous Suzi, she gave me this book for my birthday a while back. Not only does it contain great information and awesome photos of great apes, it even has decent coverage of my favourite (and usually under-represented) great ape, the bonobo. Peace-loving. Matriarchal. Horny. What's not to love? We would all be well-served to be more like the noble bonobo.
What this gift says: You may think too much about the sex lives of other primates.

Sock Monkeys: 200 out of 1,863
And speaking of primates, I don't know much about the mating habits of sock monkeys, but you can tell just from looking at them that they must be randy little critters. My love of woollen primates is well-documented on this site, no doubt the reason why The Fair Danielle gifted me out of the blue with this fantastic book.
What this gift says: You might want to talk about things other than sock monkeys from time to time.

Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living
Rusty gave me this funky book back when we were going through our bohemian, thrift-store scavenging, post-Burning Man, urban hipster doofus approach to interior decorating. Then he quickly appropriated it, loaned it to someone else without asking me, and had to be reminded that it was, after all, MY book when I coerced him into chasing it down. I'm not sure why I was in such a rush to get it back... perhaps because I needed the book's detailed instructions on how to upholster your TV in fun fur.
What this gift says: Can I borrow that when you're done?

Best of Bizarre
This is another Taschen gem. It was a Christmas gift from my delightfully quixotic (and by that I mean weird) friends Sue and Stefan. It's a sort of pictorial history of bondage and fetish gear throughout the ages. It's an interesting book... not least because I've never expressed any interest in the whole bondage and fetish lifestyle. And yet there it sits on my shelf, reminding me of a journey I've not taken. And that's kind of the way it is with some coffee table book gifts, isn't it? They're detailed essays of interests and lifestyles that might otherwise never have crossed your path. And in their own random way, they're not entirely unlike this world wide web of ours.
What this gift says: Want to come over to our house for dinner and... drinks?


landismom said...

Hmmm, I'm wondering what you'll make of my most recent coffee table book acquisition. This came with my annual renewal to a photography journal. I can't remember the title, but it's a series of photos of farm life. I was paging through it the other day, when I suddenly got to the dead animal carcass section and thought, 'holy crap is that a lot of blood! better hide this one from the kids.'

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My in-laws recently rediscovered a book that had belonged to FIL's stepfather. It was in a cupboard or something. It's a travel book with loads of illustrations, and it is 300 years old.

Yes, it is a 300-year-old coffee table book. It is unbelievably gorgeous and fragile and, as you said, sensual. It felt ancient. We were drooling over it. Somehow I just can't imagine my descendents drooling over a Palm Pilot!

Anonymous said...

I know I know the Earth From Above coffee table book is incredibly popular and hyped and everyone loves it/owns it. But seriously.

When a COFFEE TABLE BOOK can impress a 17-year-old enough to shell out $60 meant for a shopping spree in Chicago of maybe normal 17-year-old things such as clothes, shoes, makeup, etc...well then you know it's pretty damn great.

I still have it 5 years later somewhere in a box...the thing's too damn heavy to transport to Korea. But I love it and refuse to give it up.