Content & design: “Too Much Happiness”

Alice Munro’s new collection of stories sits on my “soon-to-be-read” stack. Not surprising, it’s made The New York Times 100 Notable Books for 2009 and receives a glowing response in the Sunday, November 29, NYT Book Review.

Munro rules the short story kingdom with unmatched ability to create engrossing mini-novels within a short-story structure. I’m eager to read these 10 new stories but, for the moment, I’m interested in the book’s design.

Book design is something I’ve been taking note of lately. With the potential demise of book art haunting literary production, depending on the success of e-readers, I’m curious, and sad, about what we’re letting go of.  Becoming familiar with Too Much Happiness before I read it (an act of flipping through the pages, reading random paragraphs, cruising publication notes, skimming blurbs and acknowledgements), I came upon “A Note on the Type.”

The following is fascinating and gives a bit of a chuckle, considering Munro’s roots lie in British soil:

“This book [Too Much Happiness] was set in a modern adaptation of a type designed by the first William Caslon (1692 – 1766). The Caslon face, an artistic, easily read type, has enjoyed over two centuries of popularity in our own country. It is of interest to note that the first copies of the Declaration of Independence and the first paper currently distributed to the citizens of the newborn nation were printed in this typeface.”

We don’t get these notes much anymore, a “hail to the design” for the type chosen, let alone the artwork on the dust jacket and then the whole of the book’s design, pieces and parts that are as important as the content but, like much in the arts today, losing ground. Consider what’s behind the beautiful production of Munro’s collection:

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly want to own a book for its cover. There will be more about the book as an art object on TLC.