12 Mar 2017

Literary Classics by The Folio Society

The old adage, 'Don't judge a book by its cover', is a cracking old chesnut - especially when aimed at... books! We understand it unwise to base an opinion upon the look of a book alone, and by extension to everything and everyone we come into contact with in life. As much as we are trying to underplay this though, poor artwork does no justice to a good story whatsoever!


A novel, a political treatise, or a poem anthology, for example, might not command the imperious need for illustration per se, yet a little visual wouldn't go amiss. We would expect a few lithographs or photographs for a cookbook, travel guide or garden book - as essential descriptive triggers that entice you to turn your hand to a recipe, visualise a place or identify a particular plant - yet in my life I have come across books within those disciplines that were devoid of such illustrative artefacts. A big let down!

Overall, books with any sort of visual appeal (slipcase, dust jacket, binding, illustrations, endpapers, etc.) are bound to be more eye-catching and engaging than those that puritanically resemble an austere brick on the outside, and open up to an uninterrupted flow of words, cover to cover, without much as a blank page or typographical embellishment to punctuate - lighten up - the flow. War & Peace, anyone?!


Inveterate book worms might shrug this off as a bout of coquettishness, superficiality or distraction on my part. But bear with me on this one; our modern times are so infused with visual stimulus that we find it hard to imagine a book without the seeming artifice of decor. Artifice, come again! If you come across a book you know nothing about, your first opinion will be subjectively based upon its looks. To the design-conscious and those in touch with their feminine side, the book cover is an appetizer, the first encounter, the deal breaker as to whether or not they will wish to find out more about the book, grab it, leaf through it and purchase it... or leave it behind on the shelf and walk away.

A book makes more sense when it is illustrated. It makes it whole; it personifies it and makes it come to life. Of course disaster may strike there too: you do get those books with great word content, marred by a disappointingly poor set of images - I have encountered those in spades! Not helping the final purchasing decision, unless you can just blank them out and concentrate on words alone.


As a niche upmarket publishing company that respects both authors and readers in their expectations, with collector appeal and hence no compromise over quality of detail and creativity, The Folio Society (est. 1947) understands that literary classics deserve impeccable styling. The house delivers "carefully crafted editions of the world’s finest literature". There you are welcomed by creativity across the board and books that are anything but bland, cheap and predictable. Literature is praised and embraced as an art, where it feels special once again. A nice observation to be had when Amazon's mass-consumerism is pretty much crushing out the last gasps of what a great book should be looking like: fine and regal! A beautiful book makes for a beautiful read.

"We believe that great books deserve to be presented in a form worthy of their contents. For nearly 70 years we have celebrated the unique joy to be derived from owning, holding and reading a beautiful printed edition." - The Folio Society

Sources: All books published by The Folio Society, do check out the production credentials! (1)  Paradisaea apoda, illustration by John Gould and William Hart, from A Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or Birds of Paradise by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, 1891–98., © The University of Manchester. Extracted from The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise by Alfred Russel Wallace. Introduced by George Beccaloni, preface by Steve Jones. Bound in printed and blocked cloth. Set in Dante. Volume one: 392 pages; volume two: 352 pages. Frontispiece and 32 pages of colour plates in each volume. Maps and over 60 integrated black & white illustrations in total. Blocked slipcase. P.S: The Paradisaea apoda illustration is also found in the limited edition, Sharpe's Birds of Paradise by
Richard Bowdler Sharpe, which collates his 79 plates. Introduction by Sir David Attenborough.

(2-5) Montage by Mirabelle, assisted by Picmonkey. Clockwise from left: (2) Paradisaea apoda, cf. (1) for details.

(3) The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates. Introduced by Ian Jack, illustrated by Alice Tait. Bound in cloth. Printed with a design by Alice Tait. Set in Bembo. Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations. 160 pages.

(4) The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett. Selected and introduced by William Trevor, illustrated by Clifford Harper. Bound in cloth, printed and blocked with a design by Clifford Harper. Set in Goudy. Frontispiece and 10 colour illustrations. 408 pages.

(5) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Illustrated by Eric Fraser. Bound in paper blocked in gold with a design by Francis Mosley. Set in Fournier with Omnia display. 19 black & white illustrations. Printed map endpapers. 248 pages.

"In the digital age, information is served to us instantaneously. Success is measured by speed, and we can dispose of the written word at the click of a mouse. This is why Folio books are the perfect tonic. We offer the reader an opportunity to pause and reflect; to spend time appreciating beauty and wisdom. The books we select for publication are timeless – and in the editions we produce, they will be enjoyed and valued now and in generations to come." - ibid

(6-9) Montage by Mirabelle, assisted by Picmonkey. The Temple Flora, by Robert Thornton, a Folio Society limited edition, introduced by Stephen Harris. Illustrations clockwise from top left: The Queen Flowers, The Aloe, The American Cowslip, Night-Blowing Cereus. Quarter-bound in Nigerian goatskin, cloth sides. Front board printed and blocked with design by David Eccles from 'The Night-Blowing Cereus'. 232 pages with 9 preliminary monochrome plates, 5 preliminary colour plates and 29 flower illustrations. Text printed on felt-marked Modigliani Neve paper and plates printed on Modigliani Insize. Green ribbon marker, coloured top edges. (10) Commentary volume by Stephen Harris, The Temple Flora, presented in solander box, bound in buckram, 128 pages.

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