from The New York Observer

The Origin of the (Book as a) Work of Art

by Emily Witt

Midway through a party for Thornwillow Press at the St. Regis Hotel last night, a book publicist brought up Heidegger. “It’s all about the thinginess of the thing,” he said gloomily, sipping champagne, after a discussion about why Montblanc pens was sponsoring a book party. His point was that nice pens, small letterpress books, the St. Regis, fine stationary – these are all formerly rather ordinary objects that have now become rarified.

The book in question was It Happened Here, a history of the St. Regis Hotel by Lesley M.M. Blume, the first in a series of “libretti” by Thornwillow Press that intends to transform books, as Van Gogh once did with a peasant’s shoes, into art (by emphasizing the books’ beauty, their status as “limited edition,” and by charging $40 to $400 dollars for them.) As the press release for Ms. Blume’s book put it, “the Libretto Library is dedicated to the belief that physical books – tangible, aesthetically pleasing, letterpress printed and beautifully bound – have a new and even more important place in our lives: as repositories of permanence in an increasingly ephemeral world of letters.”

Thornwillow is not the first publisher to treat the book as a thing divorced from its more equipmental characteristics. The most recent example would be James Frey, who avoided a traditional publisher in the United States and printed only a limited run of the physical edition of his book, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, through Gagosian Gallery (along with a $6.99 e-book). And the representatives of New York publishing who are involved in the Thornwillow series – Andrew Wylie, the literary agent; Jonathan Galassi, the publisher of FSG and Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review are themselves men who have distinguished themselves by maintaining a certain decorous ideal of literature, life in New York, and dapper dress. (They are joined by Henry Finder, editorial director of The New Yorker, Michael Shnayerson, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and Ms. Blume.)

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