Visual Reading and Unique Forms | Wyatt’s World

Say what you will about the benefits of ebooks for travel and storage, there are deep and resonant pleasures to be had in printed books—from playful formats to lush productions. Consider Chris Ware’s tactile and inventive Building Stories (Pantheon) or the grand haute style and oversize scale of Martha Stewart’s Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations (Crown). Here are five new books that make great use of the printed form—from a mix of media to a creation in paper that begs to be held.

  • S. by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst (Mulholland: Little, Brown). In this novel in which the margin space of another novel is used to tell the story, the collaboration between Abrams and Dorst is intriguing even before the multiple stories (in multiple forms) start to be told. Adding to the mashup, the title is packaged to resemble a library book in its slipcase, multiplying the visual rewards.
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson (New Directions). This full-color facsimile edition, edited by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner, reprints 52 handwritten poems Dickinson composed on scraps of envelopes. Presented in life-size images and accompanying print transcripts, these poems are to gaze upon and read with equal delight.
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (text) & Matt Kish (illus.) (Tin House). As he did with his glorious illustrated edition of Melville’s Moby-Dick, Kish elevates visual storytelling with this take on Conrad’s dark and harrowing novel of oppression. On every facing page, he presents an image crafted from ink and markers on watercolor paper that extends the power of Conrad’s story and adds to its depth.
  • Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs by Steve McCurry (Phaidon). Combining full-color plates of McCurry’s most iconic images (his photograph “Afghan Girl” was featured on the cover of National Geographic Magazine’s 1985 June issue) with a range of visual ephemera, notes, and essays, this lavishly produced title traces the creation and context of McCurry’s most important and stunning work—from field images that document the farthest reaches of the globe to pictures taken in New York on 9/11.
  • The Great War: July 1, 1916; The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco (Norton). Sacco’s pictorial account of the horrifying Battle of the Somme, in which a mind-numbing number of soldiers were killed and wounded, unfurls in 24 feet of accordion-folded panels that wordlessly depict the fighting in stunning detail and create an indelible sense of scope and loss. A 16-page essay by Adam Hochschild accompanies this illustrated history.
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at


  1. Julie K. says:

    A few shining examples of why will the printed books never vanish. You just can´t replace the emotions that you feel when you touch paper with an electronic device.

    • Neal says:

      Hi Julie,

      Let me know if you have any other excellent examples you particularly love. I am always on the lookout for books that carry the form to new heights.


  2. Joyce Saricks says:

    Well-timed and intriguing, especially with all the conversation among librarians about S and how to circulate it.

    • Neal says:

      I vote for treating it like a map or a CD in the back of a book and circulating the whole thing. – Neal