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Visual Editions: Great Looking Stories Within Reach

By (March 22, 2014) No Comment

VE5_WhereYouAre_HeroDesign within reach is a great concept. But the definition of “reach” isn’t exactly a fixed quality; even on our best days, most of us aren’t LeBron James. So it’s good for everyone when nice things are priced nicely—you don’t expect to be able to buy a new sofa with change gleaned from the cushions of the old one, but a beautiful book is one of the small consumer pleasures in life. Or at least that’s how it ought to be. High-end books are expensive to produce, granted, but often the markup goes beyond production costs to reflect a handpicked audience, one of which you and I are probably—although I suppose it’s not my place to make wild guesses about the tax brackets of my readers—not part.

A case in point would be a sharp new limited-run boxed book, The Brownsville Boys: Jewish Gangsters of Murder, Inc.. Coffee table-sized, thick with color etchings of famous Jewish gangsters and text by a crime scholar from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it’s just the kind of thing to make my heart beat a little faster, a book I might want to treat myself to sometime. Except, that is, for the fact that it costs a cool $4,200. And while I understand that production values here are high, and the publisher, Two Ponds Press, out of Maine, is something of a boutique house. Still, this is not a book, as it turns out, for the likes of me. Or anyone else I know.

Which is why it’s good to hear about publishers like Visual Editions, a London-based collective dedicated to making innovative, beautiful, affordable books. In the four years since designers Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen founded Visual Editions, they’ve produced some truly lovely work. Recent books include Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, a die-cut physical repurposing of Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles; Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1, an unbound book whose pages can be read in any order—which has also become an innovative iPad app—and my favorite, given my delight in countermapping of all kinds, Where You Are. This last explores the realm of personal mapmaking in a set of boxed, individually bound maps and essays by the likes of Alain de Botton, Tao Lin, Leanne Shapton, Geoff Dyer, and Denis Wood, author of countermapping ur-text The Power of Maps.

The books put together by Visual Editions, its writers, and its designers are wildly different from one another, but all are concerned with the ways it’s possible to play with the interface of words and images:

When we think of visual writing, we think about the visuals feeding into and adding to the storytelling as much as the words on the page do. We also like to make sure that the visuals aren’t gimmicky, purely decorative or extraneous, but are key to the story they are telling. And without them, that story would be something altogether different.

The prices are as important as the concepts: most of the work will run you $25 to $40 U.S., with Where You Are just tipping the scales at $50. That’s still within the range of the possible, and even—for those of us so inclined—the probable, no matter what our reach.