Nothing like the smell of fresh books


The most enjoyable part of any publishing project whether in newspapers, magazines or books is the arrival of the finished product. My first job was at the Sherwood Park News, a weekly newspaper. The bundles of papers were dropped off at the office on Sunday nights. The first time I was there for delivery I waited until the deliverymen left me alone in the office and sat amid the bundles for an hour. It was intensely satisfying. I would have climbed on top of the pile and slept there if I hadn't been afraid of being found in the morning.

All of which is to say I received my hardcovers of Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times from Knopf this week and I'm happy. The book is 728 pages with 16 pages of photos. Let's take a tour.

The cover is designed by the great Carole Devine Carson who has also done Julian Barnes, Joan Didion, John Updike, Katherine Graham and Bill Clinton. You can read about her here and she also runs a blog called The Casual Optimist. She did a great job of making Hoover look human and attractive. The type is gold. It has a subtle sheen to it that didn't come across in the PDFs I was sent during the production process. It looked beige in the PDFs. I complained about the beige and was reassured, repeatedly, that Carole knew the difference between beige and gold and that I'd get gold.

And I did. I'm a pain in the ass. I also insisted on seeing several versions of the cover and I test-marketed them with informal focus groups organized over email. I was surprised when Knopf agreed to take my next book.

Anyway, pleased with the cover jacket. The back cover jacket has a series of immodest quotes praising my Hearst book. As for the spine of the cover jacket -- spines are important -- this one has a gold borzoi (the Knopf dog). I love the borzoi. Sometime in my teens I identified it as a symbol of quality books. Right at the top of the copyright page it says "This is a Borzoi Book."

Borzois, incidentally, are beautiful, graceful creatures long in the nose, legs, ears, and tails. They were favored by the Tsars. They are diligent hunters, high-strung, and stupid. They are considered the breed most likely to be hit by a car or to unexpectedly bite you in the face.

The borzoi silhouette appears in four places in the book and there are two slightly different versions of it. The two on the cover flap spine and the back cover flap are hungrier than the two on the title page and actual spine. And the company calls itself Knopf, Alfred A. Knopf, and Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York in different places. My branding friends would freak at this but they freak easily. (It baffles me that Knopf does no merchandising. They have the only instantly recognizable icon in book publishing apart from the penguin and they do nothing with it. I guess that's admirable in a way but it's also leaving money on the table.)

The type on the actual spine, as opposed to the dust jacket spine, is san serif, silver on black. It's a very sturdy book, nice tight binding, built to last, printed in the U.S. by Berryville Graphics in Berryville, Virginia. It has deckle-edged (unfinished) pages. Makes me wonder if anyone publishes books with uncut pages anymore. I used to buy them from time to time but haven't seen one like that in years.

Berryville, for those who are interested, was once surveyed by George Washington, the only President aside from Hoover capable of completing a survey. It is also famous as the hometown of Major Lloyd W. Williams, the marine officer from the Great War who uttered the words, "Retreat Hell! We just got here." He was dead in a week.

The paper is a rich creamy color with an eye-pleasing soft finish and minimal show-through. The type is Janson, named for a Dutch typefounder but actually made by a Hungarian typefounder named Nicholas Kis who has caused to pissed that Janson's name is on his beautiful type but we'll leave all that in the seventeenth century where it belongs.

If you stick your nose right in there you can smell the paper, the glue, and the printer. I suppose if you're one who can also identify the faint hint of mushroom in a fine pinot noir you might also be able to smell the ink and whatever the deliveryman had for lunch but my nose is not that precise.

All in all, I'm delighted. Thanks to my editor, Andrew Miller, Zakiya, Katie, Carole, and the gang at Knopf. I hope it does well for you.

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