What Can Drive a Reader Into and Through a Book, If Not Plot?
I am thinking about the analogy between museums and books, because of this show I am here to see. The exhibit is about Jewish book art, and so the brilliant show designer has lined all of the floors in either black or white — so it is as if you were walking through the print of a book. In Unsettled, my book on Israel, I mentioned that the floor at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, the floor is slightly angled, so you feel unstead as you walk through the show. So in a museum, the very ground you stand on is designed to influence how you perceive what you see, hear, and read. The parallel for books, of course, is the page and the paper.
Every kind of paper used in a NF book is a set of narrative choices: is it heavy stock so that color or grainy b/w photos look sharp? Is it a textured or old fashioned stock to give a feeling of an archival book? Is it recycled paper to match some ecological theme? Does it have all sorts of pull outs and flaps to lift — as in those ology books? Of course these are financial decisions, but they are also narrative choices that have nothing to do with plot, but deeply influence how you experience your experience in the book.
Paper is like the floor in a museum — easy to ignore, but a great opportunity to shape how a reader experiences a book. After paper comes type — another set of choices. And then design. At this Jewish Museum show, and blank space — for example the back of a stairwell as you move from floor to floor — is used to show contextual films — footage of the actual October Days in Moscow in 1917, or the Dybbuk, a play that was very important in Jewish theater. So the show immerses you in a world even as it exhibits book art. In the same way — as Brian Selznik explained in his Caldecott speech — in our books, the page turn is everything. And that is particularly so in illustrated NF. We can use the spread, the page turn, from dramatic impact, even though our books use archival illustrations. We create pace entirely without plot.
More to come.