Not Exactly a Book Review

My First Read of the New Decade

Change is the Only Constant by Ben Orlin

The first book I’m reading this decade is a beautiful object. I am so taken by the design of this book that I am asking your forgiveness, as I will barely be referencing the contents of the book.  I am only on page 59, absolutely enjoying the read, but it’s really the book itself that I just can’t wait to go on and on and about.

I love endpapers. In fact, I’m a member of a facebook group called We Love Endpapers. It’s not typical to see interesting endpapers in mass market books. Endpapers are a throw back to a time when a bookbinder would use a double-size sheet, folded in half, as part of the structure of a book. Endpapers can be an opportunity to elevate the beauty or interest of a book right from the first opening. All hardcover books have endpapers, it’s just that, nowadays, they are usually blank paper. Endpapers are pasted on to the front and back covers of a book. The sides that aren’t pasted down are the first and the last free pages. Endpapers are never numbered, as they are not a part of the book block, not part of the contents. Endpapers are an independent element of the book.

Next what is beautiful about this book is the table of contents. How often does one feel the overwhelming urge to gush over a table of contents? The TOC is four pages long, announcing each chapter with an endearing bad drawing – except for that paper clip. The paper clip is drawn really well.

Now here’s the next moment I’m enjoying about this book. The fore edge of the book block has this candy-cane like striped pattern with a dark black streak in the middle. In fact the dark streak is exactly in the middle of the contents of books. And the red stripes? Turns out these stripes delineate the chapters of the book, which the designer or editor or author, or perhaps all three together, have worked to all be about the same length. Each chapter is bite – sized. There are twenty-eight of them, which makes them easily digestible. I go back and reread each chapter, which, because of the length and all the pictures, is a completely enjoyable thing to do. Did I mention I love the look of these stripes?

Another thing about the pages: they are a nice weight. I feel like I am contending with something substantial as the pages turn.

Here’s how each chapter begins: with a beautiful mottled red border, reminiscent of marble, with a delicate pattern to frame the edges of a one of Ben Orlin’s signature Bad Drawings, similar to those that accompany Ben’s blog posts.

It might seem irrelevant to review a book by its physical container, but, in this case, it just can’t be helped. I do believe that the editors of this book knew what they were doing when they gave Orlin’s book the royal treatment. I have no doubt that this tome will be one of this era’s most important reads about math today. As Jim Propp said to me when I cornered him into a conversation this summer, “Calculus is having a good year.” But you are not going to hear about Ben’s work from me. That’s what this is for. Oh, and if you click on that link thinking that someone who is so credible, who writes with (trust me on this) such insight, humor, flair, and erudition, is likely a grey-haired guy with deep knowing eyes that comes from having lived a long life of service to students who now, in retirement, is sharing his wisdom…uh, no. Anyhow, that’s what I thought before meeting Ben a couple of years ago.

Ok, I can’t bear it. Here’s some of his writing.

But that’s all I’m giving you.

Finally, will end with my absolute over the top I can’t even believe I’m seeing this moment. Again, in advance, my apologies. I think you’d have to know something about bookmaking to appreciate this.

Three hundred nineteen is the second to the last page of this book. This book has 320 pages. A book with 320 pages is not atypical. In fact, hardcover books made like this one are always multiples of 32. Each signature is made from one large sheet of paper, which creates 8 sheets of paper, folded in half, to a stack of sixteen, numbered on each side, to create 32 pages. So a book with 320 pages is not at all unusual. What is unusual is that the pages are numbered to reflect the actual number of pages in the book. This is the only mass produced book that I have ever seen that has considered that the first page of the book block in the book as page one. I am awestruck.

Considering all these fabulous details of Ben Orlin’s book, which I should mention is called Change is the Only Constant, I am left wondering, why is there no colophon? The book lover in me has been so satisfied that I feel glutinous asking for more, but there you have it. I want more.

Maybe in his next book?





3 thoughts on “My First Read of the New Decade

  1. I so agree – I rarely notice the physical object of a book outside of the cover art or finish, but Ben’s books are superbly made. I wouldn’t have noticed the page numbering (thanks for that, great tip) but the paper thickness, the fun stuff on the endpapers, the images on the book cover under the dust jacket, it’s extraordinary, even before the book is read! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks so.


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