When is a book more than a book?

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First aired on Metro Morning (5/10/12)


In today's digital age, is the physical book becoming irrelevant? Or is it creating new opportunities for physical books to become more than books? That is, to become art? That's what author Stephen Marche thinks and he tried to prove it with his latest novel, Love and the Mess We're In.

Marche acknowledges that digital editions of books are replacing some physical books -- primarily the cheap softcovers and paperbacks designed for accessibility and affordability. "We forget how terrible most of the books printed in the 20th century were, very bad quality," Marche said to Metro Morning host Matt Galloway. But that's not the case any longer. "When you go into a bookstore, the books that are published there are very high quality, almost without exception."

Marche believes that the digital revolution has allowed us to consider the print book in new and different ways. Since owning a physical book is now a choice, not a necessity, "we are becoming more aware of the book," according to Marche. The result is that book design is better than ever. "Every book is so well put together, because if you're going to have a physical book, it may as well be as beautiful as possible." Marche kept this in mind when he was writing Love and the Mess We're In. He aspired to "make the most beautiful book ever published in Canada." Love and the Mess We're In makes use the the physical object to help tell the story. A "Jewish text box" frames the memory of an old friend, Islamic calligraphy is used for an erotic part of the book, and there's a map of the New York City subway system, with all the names changed. "Its an act of design as much as an act of writing, this book," Marche said.

Marche also wanted the format to portray the themes he was exploring in the book. "I was trying to tell a story about decay," he said. The novel is set "around 2006," when "everything seemed to be falling apart." At the time, the war in Iraq became "more unimaginably worse every week," and the economy and the environment were suffering. "[I was] trying to get at the messiness of life and the freshness of life," he said. "How do you affirm life in the face of all this decay, and all this despair?"

The book took a year to write and two years to design. Marche believes the book's designer, Andrew Steeves, is as much an author of the work as he is. "It was such an act of love."

You can view some spreads from the novel below.

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