I’ve long maintained that my love of New York Review Books extended only as far as the realm of print—that aside from the wise choices in backlist matter it’s their graphic presence, their savory cover stock and tasteful graphics, their perfectly portable size, their handfeel—that makes an NYRB Classic such a harmonious physical object. I say this, of course, in the same voice that I use to proclaim that I’m perfectly content with an e-reader that… let’s just say it screams “early adopter.” Not, in other words, the voice of progress.
Because now NYRB has brought out its e-book line, NYRB Lit, and I must say they look lovely even in pixel form. The imprint has stayed true to its aesthetic: good works rescued from obscurity, presented in a deeply eye-pleasing form. Their plan for the line is to release ten e-books a year; series editor Sue Halpern hopes to leverage the lower cost of the electronic platform to feature books that are “too risky and expensive” for more mainstream publishers to keep in print. Or as Caustic Cover Critic James Morrison, who recently featured the new series images stacked up nicely—an important service to readers in lieu of there ever being an actual bookshelf to admire them from—
I assume the rationale here is that these books are those that are unlikely to make back the costs of physical publishing, but which are too good to languish unpublished in the US market.
Since e-books have no covers proper, I guess what I want to compliment here are the thumbnails, designed by Ian Durovic Stewart. The books’ descriptions are tempting enough, too be sure, but the clickables are really nice, reminiscent of Granta’s amorphously cosmopolitan mid-’90s cover style. Which, in turn, makes me reconsider—if only for a minute or two—my lack of desire for a tablet so far. While it wouldn’t be the same as holding that perfect NYRB weight in my hand, surely visiting those handsome graphics on my way to the content would be satisfying in its own way. Wouldn’t it?
I suppose the rigorous test would be to download one in second-generation e-ink and see if it stands up without the pretty face. I’m sure it would… but those are some awfully pretty faces, nonetheless.