“The digital world is so bent on avoiding accidents that I think sometimes it takes away the possibility for serendipity.” Maggie Nichols is an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon, US. Her distinctive artwork brought to life the book authored by Amber Case, “An Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology”. Nichols blogs for Simply Kumquat, and her prints are also available on Etsy.
Q: What do you think will become of books?
Not long ago a friend mentioned a sad list she’d seen in a magazine. THINGS THAT WILL SOON BE EXTINCT. Among those things mentioned were watches and maps. Not long after that NPR started airing a series called “Tools Never Die?”, which I forwarded along to her to give her hope. They tried desperately to find something, anything, that was no longer being manufactured. They solicited reader-response and about the only thing they found was “the secret to building the long wooden ships that flexed with the sea”, and that’s only because the engineering specifics were not written down and have presumably been lost to history.
But we do know how to build books, in fact there is a whole section at a nearby bookstore on the subject. The art store I sometimes go to downtown has bookbindering tape, awls and hammers. There is a blogger I read who printed her own archives onto paper and bound them as a sort of keepsake serial. There are a lot of institutions surrounding books. There are a lot of people who like books.
I think it will all come down to a question of what’s appropriate when. It’s undeniably pleasant to deal with reams of, say, tax paperwork virtually. And I love that my library grants virtual access to the OED. But every time I drive through the Cascades or to the coast I exit cell phone reception and rely solely on a battered atlas crammed between the passenger seat and the gear-shifter. Bodies of text will always exist, and as long as there are people who prefer to exist in the physical world there will be books. We can make them ourselves if it comes to it.
Q: What is your favourite book? By author/photographer, designer or publisher?
A truly dedicated reader’s favorite books will frequently be replaced by new favorites. Lately I’ve been recommending “Finite and Infinite Games” by James P. Carse. “A Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats has always stayed with me. I find Chronicle Books very pleasant to look at, I find McSweeney’s books very pleasant to look at and read.
Q: How would the current development in digital books inform illustration?
Digital books are on the rise, and the smooth, uniformity of the objects kind of creates a strange listlessness in life. Or it does for me. The text changes but the object still looks the same. Pictures and colors can change all that, particularly if they are illustrations — so different-looking from photographic life. The engage the part of the brain that wants variety.
I worry that as a species tech-humans are forgetting about variety, about the delight of surprises, about the magic that can come from accidently wandering somewhere you hadn’t been planning on going. The digital world is so bent on avoiding accidents that I think sometimes it takes away the possibility for serendipity. Illustration can remind people that possibility is there. And looking unlike the sleek machine it’s coming from certainly helps.
Q: What was the last book you read? Or published!
I have been on a major Charles Dickens kick lately. His descriptions are so vivid and ridiculous that I have to read with a pad of paper to draw things like “the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie…”. I just finished “Hard Times” (which featured that speaker, his hair, and his knobby head,) and am in the middle of “Bleak House”.
Q: Finally: Kindle, PDF, HTML – or print?
I should confess that audiobooks play an important role in my life, but that may be a subject for another five minutes. Because for the most part I need print. I need a physical object. Something that ages, that can have yellowed, brittle pages that I can look over fondly someday, thinking, Gosh, we have seen many years together, have we not. I need something with words to underline, with margins to draw in, something I can pick up from the shelf and hand to someone. Something I can smell.