The Beauty of Book Spines … Or Not

Can Book Spines and Audiobooks Sleep Together?

by Lauren Alwan

In this LitStack Rec, we look at the beauty of book spines that are collector’s items for those of us who love the look created by the book spines on a bookshelf. First, we’ll preface the LitStack Rec with a question on books vs. audiobooks

Beauty of Book Spines Or Not

Book Spines vs. Audiobooks

Imagine a world where stories climb up the walls, where wisdom wraps itself around corners, and adventures line up, waiting for you to embark upon them. This is the enchanting reality of a room adorned with books, each spine offering a silent yet compelling invitation into its unique universe. The beauty of book spines is not merely in their aesthetic appeal, which harmonizes colors, fonts, and designs into a visual symphony on your shelves. It’s also in their ability to stand as markers of time spent in other worlds, reminders of journeys taken from the comfort of your home.

However, as we stride deeper into an era keen on sustainability and minimalism, audiobooks emerge as an equally captivating alternative. They offer the magic of storytelling without claiming physical space or resources beyond the digital realm. Whether you’re aiming to reduce your ecological footprint or simply seeking convenience without compromise on content richness, audiobooks serve as faithful companions that blend seamlessly into our mobile lives. Balancing between these two mediums offers us an even-handed appreciation of literature’s timeless allure – be it through the tactile charm of book spines or through the immersive experience audiobooks provide.

The Beauty of Book Spines
by Lauren Alwan

The Beauty of Book Spines

Over on Tiktok, one of #booktok’s diehard readers of literature is an engineering student with a penchant for previously-owned books, and his reading pace is nothing short of impressive. That would be Brady Billiot, who documents his prodigious reading in impromptu reviews that are thoughtful, informative, and above all, laid back. If you’re on TikTok, he’s a book influencer worth checking out.

Just recently, Brady shared thoughts on a topic that’s less frequently covered, that of book spines. While book covers and their design tend to be the stars of a title, the spine is the part we live with the most. From its place on the shelf, a spine is a digest, a compressed display, and Brady Billiot is not only an avid collector and ready, but he’s also a fan of book spines. 

It’s the spine of a book we come to know intimately, after all, across  the years a book spends with us. In  “The Beauty of Book Spines,” writer and editor Kari Larsen writes, “While a cover alludes to the book’s identity, the spine indicates something about the book as well as the reader. Stacked side by side, books measure, at irregular, whimsical intervals, parts of a person’s life.” 

Or Not…

Some Favorite Spines

The Wheel of Time

On TikTok, Brady recaps his reading at @bradys_bookshelf, and in a recent post, gave a shoutout to some of his favorites spines in his growing collection, confessing he sometimes purchases books based on their spines alone. 

The centerpiece of his collection is a series of sleeves designed in 2020 by Juniper Books for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series—a striking panorama of text and image that runs almost thirty inches. 

The Beauty of Book Spines

The Man Without Qualities

Another favorite is Vintage Publishing’s two-volume set of The Man Without Qualities, by Robert Musil (1996), found at a secondhand bookstore. Brady points out the spines’ design, and notes that when the book covers are face up, they combine to form a portrait of the author, as do some editions of the spines. 

Summer with Faulkner

Also from Vintage Publishing, a three-volume set of Faulkner collects A Summer of Faulkner: As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August, their spines elegantly aligned in blocks of black and gold with a three-part portrait of the author, their cover spine a long deserted road in the hot south.

In Search of Lost Time

A favorite of Brady’s collection is a six-volume Modern Library Edition of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, shown here in a slip case, and features a beautiful design incorporating a Victorian-era collar.

Or Not…

The Hearing Trumpet

He’s also a big fan of the NYRB classics, which the publisher calls an “eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction from different eras and times.” Defined by minimal spines and highly designed covers featuring works of contemporary and classic art, each bear the trademark center box with author and title, these are some of Brady’s favorites. Of the effect of the spines, he says, “the colors pop and their aesthetic is fantastic.” Agreed.

Or Not…

Barnes & Noble and Penguin Classics

He’s also a fan of Barnes and Noble’s Signature Editions, though both series require a caveat—the new titles tend to be pricey, and he recommends buying on eBay, though newer titles will be harder to find. One option is the B & N old classic editions, which are plentiful and affordable secondhand.

Another affordable standby, the Penguin Classics, with their iconic black and orange spines. Though Brady points out, as connoisseurs of Penguin spines likely already know, Penguin changes the spine design every few years, so sticklers will find that titles collected over time may not line up. By the way, for Penguin fans, there’s The Penguin Classics Book, the complete guide to the series from its UK origins to the present in an illustrated deluxe edition with endpapers and full-color pages.

Or Not…

Appreciation of Decorative Books

I am also a fan of book spines, and though my knowledge is nothing like Brady’s, I’ve been known to screencap images of classic examples simply for the beauty of the lettering and clever incorporation of art. For more on decorative spines, read AbeBooks’ appreciation of decorative books, here.

~ Lauren Alwan

The Beauty of Book Spines or Not

Other LitStack Resources

Be sure and look at our other LitStack Recs for our recommendations on books you should read, as well as these reviews by Lauren Alwan, and these reviews by Sharon Browning.

Let Us Know Your Thoughts – Comment

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The Beauty of Book Spines

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