A few months ago I used this space to profess my distaste for fat design monographs, the sort with images that run page after page and have minimal explanatory text. There was a time (the 1990s) when these books seemed interesting, but I now find them, more often than not, to be lazy, self-indulgent and ecologically wasteful.
The latest twist on the “fat book” phenomena comes from the Dutch designer Irma Boom, a pioneer of the format. (Her monograph on the textile artist Sheila Hicks is rightly considered a masterpiece.) In conjunction with a show of her work at the University of Amsterdam, Boom has created for herself a big book that is paradoxically small, a palm-sized phone book of 704-pages. Why make a book that’s roughly two inches tall and half as thick? This is what she told Alice Rawsthorn:
“The book is small because whenever I make a book, I start by making a tiny one. Usually I make five, six or seven for each book, as filters for my ideas and to help me to see the structure clearly. I have hundreds of those small books and am so fond of them. I’ve always wanted to make one for publication, but no one has ever wanted to do it. And I thought, well, this time, I can.”
As a souvenir of the show, if you happened to catch it, the book, Irma Boom — Biography in Books, manages to be charming in a useless kind of way. It’s packaged like a jewel in a white cardboard case, with Boom’s figure in silhouette on the back.
I will admit that I have not read the sparse commentary, inserted “here and there,” according to Boom, in 5.5 point Plantin. I imagine my ophthalmologist would not approve. Perhaps Stuart Little could read it while sitting in one of those miniature Eames chaises that seem to be so collectible. Frankly, I don’t get the point of those either, though at least they’re decorative. I’m afraid this book won’t quite have that kind of shelf life. Boom’s white cardboard case isn’t the kind of thing you want to show off on your living room mantle and the book itself isn’t going to stand up to prolonged exposure.
Bottom line: It’s a gimmick, even if a cute one. Next time, more substance please.