fingerprint smudge and chaos on the cover

by Art Chantry (

i own a LOT of books. i keep trying to get rid of them, but i think they actually breed when i turn out the lights. yesterday, i listened to NPR and heard a story about how google is trying to document and count(!) every single book ever made. they currently estimate the total number of books ever made – all the way back to the very first book made by cavemen with a stick in the dirt – to be a mere 130 million. that all? i think i personally have more than in my storage unit.

so, one of the things i do with my books is that i occasionally make a ‘cull’. i just don’t have room for any more shelves. so, i have to get rid of books. some i pack up and send to friends. some i give to libraries for their annual sales. some i send anonymously in the mail to people i know would appreciate them. i once culled half of my collection and left them behind for a design school to dispose of as they pleased. man, that was a LOT of books. some of them were worth a lot of money, too.

AC:this design STRONGLY reminds me of that old 'emerson, lake and palmer' "ELP" logo/ remember that thing, that awful 1970's design? it was n interlocking monogram of and ELP that created a circle with a the 'L' and the 'P' dropping down to almost join outside the bottom of the circle? do you know who designed that? it was R. Giger - that disturbingly gothic/organic illustrator who design the sets and costumes for the original "Alien" movie. no kidding. who knew he was a closet modernist? i think that's really funny.

the bottom line is that i can’t find it in myself to actually throw away a book. but, there is one thing that i do that is even worse. many books i buy just because i like the cover. the contents of the book itself may be stinko (a bad book. junk.) but it has a great cover. so, I TEAR OFF THE COVER!!! sad, but true. I keep the cool covers in three-ring binders in those stupid plastic sheets and treat them as an ‘idea source’ (reality: collection). the truth is, i tear off the cover and feel incredibly guilty. even shame.

so, to make myself feel better about this horrid practice, to attempt to relieve my guilt, i’m sharing with you a cover that i ripped off a book. i feel like i’m displaying a trophy head on a stick right now. so, if you look at this horror, this insult to all that is holy – beware. you may find yourself tearing the covers off books, too. soon we’ll all be flesh-eating zombies. and it’ll be my fault!!! (and it’s friday the 13th, too!)

this book i found in a thrift store. i has an absolutely great cover. the inside was a bland textbook about the printing process. i have dozens of far better books on the subject and this one was not so great. so, “OFF WITH IT”S HEAD!!” this is that wonderful cover design, don’t you think?

everything about this typography screams constructivist design. it’s not quite ‘art deco’, but more ‘art moderne’. it’s exquisitely put together. it seems perfect. every letterform is placed so exactly right. every spacing precise. for instance, look at that ‘bullet’ (aka – black dot) separating those wonderfully obtuse authors names. it’s situated exactly in the middle of the downstroke of the giant red “P”. i look at that and i get shivers down my spine. real attention to detail. no expense was spared.

this thing is letterpressed onto the hardcover cloth binding of the book in two colors. it may even be ‘mylar stamping’, since the book was from the 1950′s, which is late (aka ‘unfashionable’) late for this style. in fact, this cover was a snoozer when it was first issued. it was dull boring cover for a dull boring school text book. it was likely executed by some old tired staff ‘art department’ at a company that only produced text books. i don’t know if you know much about text book manufacturing, but it’s always always always boring. they intentionally remove anything, any sort of content (artwork included) that may have even the slightest sort of controversy to it. every text book i’ve ever worked on (yes, i’ve worked on some) has gone through the most amazing bouts of censorship that i’ve ever witnessed. it’s rather incredible.

so, this cover was intentionally designed to be utterly ‘safe’, which means deadly boring. thus, this was a really out-of style deadly dull cover design for it’s time. the staff artists were hired to such boring dull inoffensive uncontroversial work. the irony is that this design style is now considered hip and cool . therefore, it would be eliminated today as too ‘edgy’ and risky. funny how this stuff works, huh? those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

but, what really pops my cork is the the little “humanizing’ touch that some librarian or teacher added to the cover. that little numeral “2″ in the upper right corner is sim

written in with a marking pen. it’s placed so perfectly (it even lines up with the grid directly above the ‘g’) that i think some sort of natural animal brain grid instinct must have moved his/her hand to place it there without their conscious knowledge. we all have these instincts to add order to chaos – it’s what we do as animals. so, that placement is so absolutely perfect that i can’t look at it without a little thrill.

best of all, there’s that wonderful fingerprint almost lined up with the ‘author’ copy. it’s a little off, but still close. it’s the one hint of real-world chaos on the cover, the one place where all that installed organization and order completely falls apart. it’s the one place where our true human nature wins the game. it may be one of the greatest fingerprints i’ve ever really noticed. i love that smudge.


AC: i moved halfway across the country with the books (and a record collection (and my vast collection of my own portfolio samples.) almost no furniture, either. it weighed something like 9 tons, if i remember correctly that’s after dumping better than half of everything, too. seems i’m a great gatherer of crap…

that’s one of the reasons i sold off my record collection – it just weighed too much. i may eventually ditch my books. my portfolio is always for sale (no buyers). so, it’s a struggle dislodging my crap. i still haul most of it around like a huge dead albatross tied around my neck…

…but, on the brighter side, scientists say the sun is moving into a more active phase. i read this morning that about every 100 years, a tremendous solar flare erupts on the sun’s surface, flooding our planet with cosmic rays and stuff. these rays tend to fry power grids and the like (and microcircuits).

the last major blast happened in 1921. so, we’re 90 years into the 100 year cycle. the flare that happened back then was lightly felt because we didn’t have power grids established yet. this next time will do away with all those pesky internet books for sure!…

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