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Designer Bookbinders: Man Booker Prize Bindings

Thursday 02 December 2010
Words Spindle

The shortlisted authors of the celebrated Man Booker Prize every year have the fabulous treat of getting a single copy of their book bound by the well-regarded British bookbinder, Designer Bookbinders. It takes between four to five weeks in total for the completion of the cover from initial concept into the final product. The beautifully designed and bound books are revealed to the novelists at the Man Booker award ceremony. The binders produce these special hand bound books by developing an intimate knowledge of each of the book’s plots, themes and characters. Thus each book’s cover and binding do not merely serve ornamental purposes, but also offer a thoroughly examined and well thought out interpretation of the book’s contents. The V&A Museum have encased this year’s wonderfully unique book designs in glass for visitors to come and admire.

The 2010 shortlist for the prize include Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room, Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, Andrea Levy’s The Long Song and Tom McCarthy’s C. Howard Jacobson was eventually awarded the £50,000 prize on 12 October 2010 for his witty and comic novel which explores Jewish identity as its central theme.

If there was an award for the best designer bound book for this year’s Man Booker Prize it would definitely go to Sue Doggett for her book design of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song. Doggett felt that the chief feature of the novel was its suggestion of the power of words. July communicates the story of her life as a slave orally, but her son wishes her story was preserved by having this speech printed. Doggett wanted to convey the significance of language by using a collage from a range of texts, official and personal documents from the nineteenth century itself as well as incorporating pieces of writing from The Long Song story. Additionally, Doggett was clearly aware of the importance of the novel’s chosen setting when she approached the design of Levy’s book. Firstly, the vibrancy of the yellow on the top part of the book cover has a strong effect, as it reflects the hotness of the sunny climate in Jamaica. Secondly, the spine of the book resembles sugar canes which refer to the novel’s sugar plantation setting. This hand-painted, embroidered, dyed, stamped leather creation has obviously been produced with meticulous care and attention.

Angela James’ artistic interpretation of Emma Donoghue’s Room also deserves applause. The novel is about five year old Jack and his mother who are imprisoned in an eleven by eleven foot shed. Their only access to the outside world is a skylight and this becomes the main feature of the cover design. James’ cover design shows a skylight giving a view of a sun. The bright yellow sun becomes a symbol of hope. This image of the skylight and the sun has an abstract quality with the simplistic square shapes of the window and the circular outline of the sun. The design of the book certainly does the Donoghue’s heartrending story justice.

Designer Bookbinders have created six superb editions of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books. Each cover design and binding is quite simply a work of art.

Image credits:

Bound copy of Room by Emma Donoghue © Janey Airey

Bound copy of The Long Song by Andrea Levy © Janey Airey