"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!


The Strange Library (2014)

Written by Haruki Murakami

Designed by Suzanne Dean

Harvill Secker

Well, this is a first for the blog, but in keeping with my overall aesthetic.

I had decided a while ago that I wanted to expand the site from purely children's picture books, and more towards plain old picture books. Obviously, children's picture books represent the lion's share, but I am seeing more and more examples of the medium being used in the larger literary arena, and I would like to chronicle that as best I can. To me, I think it is akin to comic books being thought of mostly as funny picture stories for kids, to more serious and sophisticated adult fare. Picture books are constantly pushing the boundaries, it is an exciting medium to follow.

I found this little tome in my local library last week and I knew I had to check it out, even though I was still finishing And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and had already begun Weaveworld by Clive Barker. I have a bad habit of checking out more books than I'll ever get to - a conundrum shared by patrons of all-you-can-eat buffets.

You can't tell from the cover image I've reproduced here, but that's an actual card catalog envelope affixed to the cover. You could put a card in it, if you so desired. The version I got was small and hardcover, and clocked in at 77 pages. It feels great, a real tactile pleasure to hold and to flip through. Flipping through it reveals strange designs and illustrations - leafs from a bug identification book, large crows, astronomical symbols, tea cups, pages of pure blackness, with the words, "But it's pitch black."

"Most of the illustrations in this book including marbled papers and old pages come from old books found in The London Library, and we gratefully thank them for the rich treasury they provide," reads the note at the end. This version was designed by Suzanne Dean, though I've since come to understand that there is another version floating around out there designed by Chip Kidd. This blog post goes into greater detail about the different versions.

I'd never read Murakami before, though I've often been told I should - especially The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Shore - so there was the added bonus of being able to say, "Why, yes, of course I've read Murakami!" the next time I'm at a soirĂ©e with literary snobs and his name comes up. I was able to read it in one sitting over coffee the next morning. The design in so extensive, there really isn't much room left over for text.

Here's the story: A young man stops at his local library looking for some books. He is sent to the basement - which is odd, he thinks, because he never knew there was a basement before. He discovers a vast underground labyrinth of books, kept by an old man who at first seems quite helpful, quite insistently helpful, and then quite sinister.

"Don't trifle with me! We possess a number of volumes that deal with tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Did you come here with the intention of having sport with this library? Was that your aim?"

Before long, the narrator is taken to the Reading Room, which is a dungeon, where he must memorize the books he wished to check out in their entirety and be able to recite them word-for-word. If not, then the librarian will eat his brains. Furthermore - the narrative informs us - this isn't something horrible that's happening in this library. No. This is happening in all libraries everywhere. All librarians wish to eat our brains and lock us up and make us memorize books. It's why libraries exist. Librarians are like vampires, dolling out knowledge which makes us smarter, and then feeding on our brains in exchange.

Several of the reviews I've read of this book are people complaining about why they should have to pay $10 for a book they could read in about twenty minutes. If you think that's bad, wait til they have kids and realize they have to pay upwards of $20 for picture books they can read in about twenty seconds. In some ways, here in this digital age of downloading books for only one or two dollars, I think that this is the future of books. You have to have this actual book - this physical object that is book - in order to get the full experience. Holding it and flipping its pages is what it is. You're not paying $10 for a story, you're paying $10 for a book.

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