Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BOOKS: Where's the Love, Dadgummit?

Nothing makes you feel really adrenaline-pumpingly alive like being awoken at 2:30 am by the sound of the ceiling in your child's room spontaneously loosing itself from its moorings and crashing to the floor.

Once we'd extracted our hearts from our throats and restored them to their proper location, Rusty verified that, in fact, only a two-foot-by-three-foot chunk of ceiling had come down, and mercifully, it had chosen to come down from a space that is NOT located over Sam's crib. Still, it made a hell of a mess, in addition to scaring the living bejeebus out of us, so we woke Sam up (yes, he slept through it; that's my boy) and brought him into our bed for the rest of the night. And we were promptly reminded of why we made the decision to kick him out into his own bed eight months ago.

Sam is a bad bed citizen. Oh, he was fine for the first little while. But then the writhing started. And the pillow hogging. And the lying sideways. And then he wanted to nurse, and I figured, hey, his ceiling almost fell on him, he deserves a late-night treat. But then he wanted to keep nursing. Like, for hours. And when I cut him off, rather than pitch a mini-fit -- something he would have done up until last week -- the devious little bugger started signing "more" and repeating "Mowah? Mowah?" in a way that would have been charming and irresistable if it hadn't been 5:30 in the morning. Despite being denied, he was still pretty chipper, which I guess is commendable... if said chipperness didn't manifest itself in babbling adorably whilst trying to stick his fingers in my nose.

Hmm. This story seems to be taking a long time to tell. I'll try to speed things up. I'm not making any promises, though.

So then this morning I went to the site of my closest friend Suzi the Nomad, aka Bicycle Fish aka The Fabulous Suzi, where I learned that her flight from London to Vancouver had to be turned back because the plane was spewing FUEL all over the friendly skies. And between Suzi's plane and Sam's ceiling, I have to wonder: what ever happened to proud workmanship? Because I feel like someone's been sleeping on the job these days, and I think it's catching.

To wit:
  • Our four-month-old, two-thousand-dollar Stearns & Foster Mattress -- the Cadillac of mattresses, we were told, commissioned by the fancypants Plaza Hotel in New York City, host to high-maintenance sleepers aplenty -- is defective. We have this on official word from the mattress technician who was sent to our house to investigate our claim. It has developed squeaks and sproings and generally just doesn't sound right.
  • Both Rusty's PowerBook and my iBook contain those controversial batteries that overheat and cause fires. For this reason, I'm tempted to start using a photo of a young Drew Barrymore as my desktop wallpaper, but I'm worried that kind of smartassery is just tempting fate.
  • Our Natuzzi armchair, which was only one year old at the time, had to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair, because there was a structural defect in the frame which resulted in one arm actually collapsing in upon itself.
Stearns & Foster! Apple! Natuzzi! I'm not a label whore by any stretch, but these are all good brands that should produce quality merchandise, right? However, as our housemate The Don -- who is reasonable, pragmatic, and understands how things like electricity and plumbing work -- explained to me, when you buy from a reputable company, you're not necessarily buying a better product: you're buying a better warranty. And he's right, I guess, because all these items have been, or are being, replaced by the companies without any undue kerfuffle.

But still. Where's the workmanship? Where's the pride? Where's the
love? Back in my day, people stood behind their work. If you took your horse to Tom the blacksmith for new shoes, those shoes stayed on, dadgummit. And if they didn't, well, not not only did Tom fix 'em up, lickety-split, he had the decency to look shamefaced.

You know who rarely lets you down? Books, that's who. I can count on one hand the number of new books I've owned that have exhibited structural weaknesses, that have buckled and folded under the stress of a commuter's backpack or given up the ghost after being spreadeagled
callously on a damp beach blanket all day. You pretty much have to drop a book in the tub to kill it, and even some of those come back to life. You can count on books.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when flipping through the newest issue of Dwell to discover an article about Irma Boom, who is widely considered one of the most important book designers working today. She may also be my new hero. (In one interview, when Boom is asked about her tendency to eschew client briefs, she replies, "That’s right. Most briefs sound so uninteresting that I get paralysed." I love her.)

Irma knows how to make a book, I'll tell you.

Boom doesn't design the kinds of trade books you see in most bookstores. Instead, she works in a more rarefied arena of projects for institutional clients (i.e. the kinds of people who want to create archival-quality texts that are beautiful and that will last, and who aren't afraid of the price tag attached to these requirements).

Of the many books Boom has helped produce, the one that I find most fascinating -- conceptually, at any rate -- is the corporate history of a huge Dutch conglomerate called SHV. Here's the finished work:

And here is Boom's description of the book:
If you look at the SHV book, you'll see that it's completely non-linear -- you navigate it more like a website than a traditional book. Although there are 2,136 pages, there are no page numbers and no index. It's non-chronological, because I wanted it to work as the memory does -- the more recent stuff is all at the front, and it's more complex, more detailed; then, as you get further away in time, it's more filtered, with a simple, quiet design. Ironically, we had considered making a CD-ROM first, but had we done so, the technology would already be obsolete. A book has this great physical advantage of being timeless.
Non-linear, non-chronological, and no page numbers. How many of you just had OCD-related seizures? Still, you've got to admit it sounds interesting.

And how many of you read the first half of this post and figured it couldn't possibly come round to books? How many times do I have to tell you: it
always comes round to books, baby.


restlessly said...

And how many of you read the first half of this post and figured it couldn't possibly come round to books?

*blush* I, for one, thought that. But thanks for a great post, and I'm really glad the collapsed ceiling didn't hurt anyone.

Quillhill said...

Your day is not that long ago... in fact, who's to say your day isn't right now?

It's all about planned obsolescence. There really is not much need for that with books, being an art they are continually renewed and recreated any way. Look at the bright side: when roofs collapse and planes leak, manufacturing and repair jobs are created, and that's good for the economy. ;)

--Deb said...

I'm glad that Sam slept through the ceiling collapse . . . bad enough to see the aftermath, but what kid needs to have nightmares about his ceiling falling on him while he's asleep?

And, lordy, that book is beautiful....

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised, that ceiling asked if I, little boy, liked candy when I was staying with you and if I would stand in a certain place for a while.

Anonymous said...

I doubt we'll see a return to workmanship and quality, but I could see corporations adding some kind of Chief Shame Officer to their payroll. You file a warranty-related claim and this guy with really sad eyes shows up at your door, apologizes profusely and even cries a little, until you tell him that it's okay and that it was probably your fault the ceiling collapsed.

landismom said...

OMG, the Chief Shame Officer! That is brilliant!

Glad Sam is safe. Is your ceiling new?

And yes, the no-page-numbers book scares me. A lot.

Rebecca said...

"Ironically, we had considered making a CD-ROM first, but had we done so, the technology would already be obsolete. A book has this great physical advantage of being timeless."

And that is why there will always be books in physical form, with pages and covers and page numbers and everything. I think I love Irma a little, too.

At some point in the distant past, I scamed my way into a fancy-schmancy awards dinner for book historians, and everyone was given a copy of a book about this guy who did bookbinding of the sort Irma does. Some of the books he bound were gorgeous, and very creative, and I treasure my copy, which I unpacked this morning.

Anonymous said...

I will admit that I totally was wondering, "Did she mislabel one of her baby stories as a book entry? Cuz this is all about sleeping babies who know more sign language than I do."

And yes, when I read about that book I also went, "What? No page numbers? And it's all fuzzy towards the back? And how do you find anything you're actually looking for in that thing?!" And I even took Contemporary Literature in university.

Also, I have to brag, one book lover to another: if you ever get a chance to scam your way into the Random House Fall Preview held here in Vancouver every August, do it! I came away from that event with eighteen free books from Random House, most of which aren't even released yet!! Yes, I know--it was like God had specifically leaned down from heaven and tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You--you there! Yeah, you... Today? Today is your day."

I wrote all about that special day on my own journal--I always meant to drop you a link if you were interested but I kept forgetting: So here you go.

Em said...

Good to hear Sam's okay (read: not smucked by ceiling.)

--I've got a defective battery in my Dell, and although I ordered a replacement, they're taking their own sweet time in sending it, and I'm getting sick of looking for outlets, so I'm considering taking the fire risk because the computer's never on for hours at a time anyhow.

Anonymous said...

Just to make you jealous: I have that book... You don't look for something specific in it, you just browse.