Recently, The Economist reported that IKEA will soon introduce a new version of its classic Billybookcase. The reason for the change is the company’s realisation that consumers are no longer using its bookcase for its original purpose, storing books. Instead, it is now used to store a range of everyday items, trinkets and the occasional high-end coffee table book. The Economist argues that Billy’s new ”storage shelf” label instead of the old ”bookcase” is a sign of the times; that the classic printed book is no longer in fashion. From now on, books will be stored digitally in our tablets and e-readers, it claims.
Undoubtedly, the digitalisation of the bookcase will save space in our homes. But are we really prepared to completely forego surrounding ourselves with books in physical form? A quick review of interior design magazines from the last few years seems to indicate the opposite: they frequently use bookshelves and libraries as interior design elements and offer tips on wallpaper with book themes and storage boxes that mimic bindings, so that you can neatly hide knick-knacks on a bookshelf or desktop. More over, Penguin Books will soon re-publish three classic titles with hand-embroidered covers. Despite, or perhaps because of, the digital revolution, bound books continue to appeal to both the hand and the eye.
The hand-bound book is the fruitage of an artisanal tradition that dates back centuries, if not millennia. The bookbinding exhibition at the Nobel Museum is a tribute to the craft and to the creativity that each participating bookbinder contributes. This year we would like to thank the bookbinders from Sweden and Spain who have provided us with unique interpretations of two titles by 2010 Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa – an author whose selection as a Literature Laureate has long been anticipated, longed for and debated.
Curator, Nobel Museum
We are beginning to chalk up some good statistics these days. This is now the sixth annual exhibition of hand-bound books by Nobel Laureates to be held at the Nobel Museum. It is also the third time that the exhibition includes works by colleagues from the country or linguistic region of the Laureate. For J.M.G. Le Clézio and Herta Müller, we had the opportunity to collaborate with French and German colleagues. This year we have editions of Mario Vargas Llosa’s work from Spain.
The excitement and anticipation that bubbles up when packages from more than forty participants lie as yet unopened on the tables here is hard to describe. The only criterion for the binding was that we bound two copies of the same book – one Swedish and one Spanish edition. What do the different versions look like? What materials have been chosen? How high is the technical standard? Are there any national stylistic features that distinguish the submissions? All these questions and more are buzzing around in our minds as the books are unpacked.
At last, all of the bound books have been removed from their packagings and I am overjoyed to immediately recognise the excellent standard of the bindings. The materials and design are also of a very high standard. I delight in the jumble of different versions of the Spanish title El Sueno del Celta and the Swedish Bockfesten. In English, the book is known as The Dream of the Celt. It’s amusing to try to guess if a book’s craftsman is Spanish or Swedish. It isn’t always easy, but try it for yourself.
One obvious requirement for our work is that we must first obtain copies of the books as unbound. For this, our heartfelt thanks goes to Swedish publisher Norstedts and Spanish publisher Alfaguara for generously providing the- se unbound editions. Similarly, I would like to extend warm thanks to my colleague and friend Ana Ruiz Larea, who helped us with contacts in Spain. Without Ana’s efforts, the exhibition would not have received such a positive response from Spanish bookbinders.
As usual, I’d also like to thank the jury: Johanna Röjgård, Bosse Andersson and representative of the Swedish Association of Apprentice Bookbinders, Lotta Löwgren. I also wish to thank Kaj Flick at the Swedish Bookbinders Guild (SBI) for his help at all levels, both practical and administrative.
Bookbinder Exhibition Coordinator, SBI