Thursday, December 08, 2011


It's a tiny — but perfectly readable — little book, about the size of a cassette tape.

Its orientation is perpendicular to that of a typical book. Closed, the book has a horizontal "landscape" orientation. The text runs parallel to the spine, and you turn pages upwards.

I don't know what the technical term is for this kind of binding, but the cover is attached only to the back end page, so the binding is super flexible while the spine of the cover lies flat (kind of like those 3-ring binders where you can unfold the cover back from the rings).

It's printed on onion paper, also known as bible paper — the pages are very thin. The 633-page novel I have at hand is barely more than a centimetre thick. (The standard paperback version comes with 384 pages.)

For many months I've been seeing these lovely little books near the checkout in several local bookstores. Sadly for me, it was a weird selection of titles and they were all in French. While I considered picking one up for mere novelty's sake, I figured the language hurdle would discourage me from getting around to actually reading it.

A little investigation shows that these books are an award-winning concept that originated in The Netherlands (where they're known as dwarsliggers), and they've been around for some time in French and as librinos in Spanish.

And as of this past summer, a British publisher (Hodder & Stoughton) is offering titles in English. They're called flipbacks.

For the time being there are only 18 titles, but they are varied — good chance you'll find something to interest to you.

I wanted Cloud Atlas, long on my to-read list, but it wasn't readily available. I finally chose Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved (mostly on the strength of Sasha's review), and I ordered it up. I'm not far enough along to comment on the novel, but I've read enough to know something about the reading experience.

- Fits in your pocket. Discreet enough to read under the table at dinner parties or take into the toilet at work.

- One-handed functionality. Perfect size for gripping with one hand. One-handed page turning takes a little bit of practice, but it can be done. All in all, suitable for rush-hour public-transit commutes.

- It's a hardcover. Kinda. It's some sort of cardboard, sturdier than a paperback's covering, that won't rip or crease easily. It would have to be to protect the fine paper inside. It takes some effort to ding it up.

- The horizontal orientation means another design opportunity with regard to the cover art. Because it's not enough to turn a cover sideways. Designers get to re-envision such exciting elements as image cropping and text placement.

- The paper seems so delicate — I wonder if it's undergone strength testing. My book has suffered no damage yet (I have been treating it rather gingerly), but I'm afraid it's only a matter of time before pages are ripped.

- The line spacing is a bit tight. Certainly it's tighter than standard, and it does take some getting used to. I find I tend to use my bookmark as a line guide. Also, reading while in motion, my eyes occasionally trip to the wrong line.

- Margins are near nonexistent, so you'll have to jot down your notes somewhere else.

In sum

I'll happily consider acquiring more flipbacks as the catalogue of titles expands.

Not surprisingly, as with any good book, when a story is engrossing, the interface disappears.


Ana S. said...

I've been seeing these around as well, but I wasn't sure if I'd get along with the format. But like you said, if the story is good it ceases to matter. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on What I Loved, which I also picked up based on Sasha's review.

Stefanie said...

What an interesting idea! I've not seen any in the States yet but will keep my eye out for them.