There are books, then there are books; anyone can make a book by stapling a few pages together but if you love books and want the top quality and sumptuous aesthetics then the only place to go is the Folio Society. Established in 1947 by Charles Ede with the motto; “editions of the world’s great literature, in a format worthy of the contents, at a price within the reach of every-man” the society has been printing superbly bound, illustrated, typed and covered editions ever since. Only the best and most significant works (both fiction and non-fiction) are selected for publishing by Folio, so if you come across one chances are it will be a book you want – they are not commonly found by chance and cannot be called cheap so as it happens I only own two.
A distinction of Folio books is that they are nearly always inside their own slipcases which is both practical as it protects the book but can also be for beauty. The first one I own is certainly high on the gorgeous-aesthetics book chart; ‘Mapping the World’ by Peter Whitfield is an A4 sized hardback book on the subject of the history of maps and the role they played in the discovery of the world. Before people had Google maps or drones to chart every square inch of the planet’s surface we had to use big wooden ships to brave the open oceans and hand draw any coastline we came across and carefully chart it onto the existing maps – unknown worlds once outnumbered the known. The book is stuffed profusely with photos and artwork, too many to go into here – and after all this isn’t a review – but it is the external design that is worth paying attention to.
The slipcase itself is coated in a picture of a very heavily illustrated and very old map; showing galleons, dragons, sea-beasts of doubtful accuracy and native peoples being pillaged by Europeans. The weighty book itself is dressed in a pastel blue cloth and on the front is a wonderful design showing a sort-of coat of arms thing with explorers, a big boat, a globe and the sea all done in shiny silver.
My second Folio book is a collection of H.G. Wells short stories, predominantly science fiction ones but with a bit of fantasy and drama thrown in for good measure – these are very fun, thought-provoking and imaginative tales told by a true master. To reflect the often serious and sometimes disturbing subject matter of the stories this edition is cloth bound in a dark wood-brown with strange black marks and embossed with a silver design that resembles a scientific graph of some sort. Scattered sparingly throughout the text are imaginative illustrations by Jonathan Hitchen of a similar ilk to the front cover, sometimes clever, sometimes strange and fairly often a bit creepy – they suit the book well.
It is a pleasure to own just two of these brilliantly published books, I would love more and it is always exciting to come across one in a book shop – they really embody all that makes books great (physically beautiful with a good story inside) and make the idea of so called e-books seem frankly stupid.