Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?

Sometimes it’s just too much. I fall for a pretty face in a bookstore, take the book home, and then think, ‘why did I buy this?’ After many years working in an independent bookstore, and in the years beyond, I’ve accumulated many such indulgences. It’s bibliophelia in combination with a bit of shopaholism and a soupçon of misplaced affection. Every so often I feel compelled to bring a book home, even when I know it’s not true love. I wish to support bookstores, authors, illustrators, and in particular, the continued publication of high quality (printed) picture books, but funds and especially space are limited. If the thrill starts to wane a day or two after I’ve purchased a book, or worse, as I’m walking out of the store, it’s a sign that something other than affection was driving my decision. I try to buy only what I love, but sometimes I mistake admiration for love, and even that can be complicated by other factors which inevitably lead to misunderstandings, and an accumulation of unwanted books on my shelves. I suppose this is true of any sort of over-consumption of mood-altering substances, even those that are printed and bound.

A Touch and Feel Book of Colours

Take for instance, The Black Book of Colors. There are no actual colours, just black pages with white text on the left, and embossed illustrations printed in black gloss against a matte black background on the right. You can ‘feel’ the illustrations, and see them as long as the book is tipped at the correct angle. The simple text describes a colour, and above this is a braille translation, although, ‘due to production demands is of a quality intended for sighted readers only.’ Heh. Still, a fabulous concept. The Black Book of Colors allows the reader to experience colour through touch, and sound, as if we were blind, or perhaps a synesthesiac. Nevertheless, for someone who thrives on eye candy, I may have been a bit too hasty in my purchase of a book that is high on concept, but lacking in visual expression.

Another book, purchased in June, the same month as The Black Book of Colors (apparently whatever was going

I don't know why...

on in my life required serious bibliotherapy), had the same effect on my brain; a really cool concept overwhelming a well-honed and usually reliable visual filter. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is a familiar and delightfully twisted old rhyme, and in this re-imagining, graphic designer Jeremy Holmes has created an interactive book that includes fold-out pages, die-cuts, and a pair of eyes that close when the old lady finally swallows something that doesn’t agree with her and dies. (Too much horse, not enough fibre. Of course.) Initially, the collage-like illustrations reminded me of Lane Smith’s work in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, but upon closer inspection it appears that the illustrations are not hand-drawn, but in fact cleverly manipulated digital images. This isn’t a judgement, it’s quite beautifully done, however I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace…and collect, this type of illustration.

As with The Black Book of Colors, once I ‘got over’ the concept, and the dubious thrill of mindless accumulation, the illustrations failed to hold my attention. And so, I’m left with two books that I admire, but nevertheless fill me with buyer’s remorse, and a renewed vow to be more conscious of my motivations in a bookstore. Obviously, I don’t have a perfect record. Of the several hundred picture books on my shelves that I do love, there have been boxes of unloved books that have been re-circulated through used bookstores, and I suspect that this will be the fate of The Black Book of Colors and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. I feel a little bad about this. It’s like returning a perfectly good dog to the Humane Society because it didn’t ‘fit’ with the colour scheme in the family room. My hope is that these orphaned books will eventually find someone who will truly appreciate their unique loveliness.

The really great thing about having a blog is that I am able to give another ‘purpose’ to my collection. Thus far, it’s been enough that these little treasures have found their way onto my shelves, that year after year they continue to inspire and entertain, and as an added bonus, are the best sort of interior decoration. Now, as a blogger and advocate of outstanding picture book publications, I have to put my think on and figure out what it is about these books that makes my heart go thump. It’s an act of pure pleasure…and privilege. If on occasion, a book makes it into my collection that doesn’t quite belong, it’s not the fault of the author or the illustrator. Sometimes, for whatever reason, ya gotta bring a book home, even if it’s just for a few days.

The Black Book of Colors, written by Menena Cottin & illustrated by Rosana Faria, published by Groundwood Books, 2009  ISBN: 978-0-88899-873-6

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes, published by Chronicle Books, 2009 ISBN: 978-0-8118-6793-1