What is it with British books and gold leaf on the cover?
I go through phases in my reading interests. For a while a couple of years ago I read about World War I, a surprisingly forgotten conflict in the shadow of World War II. I spent a happy few months reading the entire Discworld series in order a while back and should probably do that again – it’s a series that rewards multiple readings, I find. Periodically I end up reading stretches of travel memoirs, which is somewhat ironic given my general stress when traveling anywhere further than my own chair. Interests come and interests go and there’s always a few books to be had about whatever comes up, and that’s one of the things that is right with this old world, I say.
For the last year or two I have found myself interested in mid-20th-century British history and have been happily chugging through any number of books that cover the period from roughly 1925 to 1975 in that area of the world, as well as more general books about the culture and linguistic curiosities of that place up to the present. It’s been great fun, and if I ever have to pack up my most precious items and flee from the collapse of the American republic perhaps I’d be better prepared to survive as a refugee there than anywhere else now.
Planning: it matters.
But one thing that many of these books have in common is that they insist on printing the larger-font words on the cover in shiny gold ink. It looks really nice when you first pick up the book, but if – like me – you tend to cart books around with you and read them wherever you find yourself, that sort of ink does tend to wear off fairly quickly.
My current book is a history of modern Britain from 1945 to whenever it was published, about a decade ago, and it has been very interesting so far. I may eventually forget who wrote it, though, as the author’s name is slowly being rubbed off in my travels.
Earlier this year I read an omnibus volume of memoirs by Ralph Glasser, who grew up in the slums of Glasgow, won a scholarship to Oxford, and became a figure of some repute in the post-war era defending traditional communities against well-meaning modernization, or at least that's what the back cover said. The memoirs themselves stopped just before he won his reputation. By the time I was finished with the volume I could barely read the title, which had lost most of its gilded letters somewhere between here and there.
And so on.
I’m not sure if this is something particular to British books, something particular to the British books that I happen to read, or just something I’ve noticed about these books that’s actually commonplace and I need to open my eyes a bit more. But it is striking, and I wish someone would tell these people to stop doing that so that the books wouldn’t look so dingy and forlorn after being rubbed clear of legible words.
Books without legible words are kind of melancholy, really, unless they’re printed on thick cardboard and designed for toddlers.