Ugly Books

The Order of Things: Ugly EditionI read 14 pages of this book wondering what in the hell he was talking about, when finally it said “NOTES [I] See frontispiece,” referring me back to before the copyright page, where the painting he’d been describing the whole time was hidden. It was a real trial in imagination and a ringing testament that mine sucks.

This was last summer, and I didn’t get much further before other books interrupted me. I’m back into it this week, but have decided to put it down temporarily because that cover is just such a giant fucking tragedy. Ordinarily I don’t let things like that bother me, but I mean look at that. I had to make an exception.

The Order of Things: Vintage EditionWhen I was entering it into LibraryThing, I noticed all the other editions, including the “User-Provided Covers” at the bottom of the sidebar. Two of those were this green and blue thing, which puts the painting on the cover, and doesn’t look like shit — in fact it has this nice, vintage, first-edition quality. On faith, I took it to be the 1973 Vintage edition, searched the ISBN on BookFinder, and ordered it used from Amazon (speaking of ugly) for $8, surprised that Amazon devotes pages to multiple editions of books so that you know which edition you’re buying used.

I signed up for LibraryThing forever ago, but never used it ’cause there’s something vain about manually cataloging all the books you own for people to admire. It’s kind of hard to stop once you get started, but I did stop, somewhere between all the books I love and all the books I’ve touched in the last year, which amounts to very little. Anyway, it can make recommendations for you, which I suppose would be helpful if you have about 200 items in your “library,” and somehow still haven’t heard of the books that are similar enough to those that even a computer knows you should read them. There are also a few very basic RSS feeds, and even though the system allows you to tell it when you begin and finish each book you own, there isn’t the stupidly obvious feed of “Current Reading.”

Another failure of the site is that, even though you can enter your edition’s specific ISBN, it seemingly doesn’t match user-uploaded covers with that user’s edition’s ISBN, so finding the edition with the cover you want is just a lot of Googling and guesswork.

Interesting note: the illustrations on the ugly Foucault cover are by Gene Greif, an artist “whose witty collage and montage album-cover illustrations for CBS Records,” according to The New York Times, “helped popularize retro style of graphic design in 1980’s [sic],” and who, incidentally, illustrates those little squares at the top of the iconic Vonnegut cover design. But, the illustrations themselves not being that bad, the blame should more accurately rest with Carin Goldberg, the designer of the cover, and probably the one responsible for the stark, pastel, two-tone background.

Also, I need to do something about the blog section of this site. I don’t know if it’s the font, or the borders on the pictures or what, but it really rubs me the wrong way. In fact the whole thing is starting to get to me.

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