Tuesday, February 12, 2008

page sequencing

the throne room

A couple of blog posts moved me to consider how I read a book. Partly this comes from thinking more carefully about how to put a book together for SoFoBoMo. I vary in how I approach and read books. I tend to pick and choose pages or graze photobooks, typically because there's no valid reason not to. I do the same thing with recipe books, or other types of content where the order is largely irrelevant to understanding the content. Certainly, there might be some structure imposed on a recipe book - starters, meat, sides, dessert or some other thematic links - party food, soul food, fresh and light, but those are just ways of sorting the ideas. The sequence isn't really meaningful. A novel is a different bundle of pages. Few people, other than the most pessimistic, would read a fiction book from the last chapter then graze around, picking random pages to read. That's because in a story, the order matters. Very, very few photographic books ever seem to have any necessary viewing order to them. The photographer or book designer might well agonise over sequencing (as Paul Butzi does in his recent blog post) but really, does it matter ? Some photo-journalistic pieces certainly tell a story but I haven't seen many of those published in book form - typically the best images get extracted, removing the surrounding context or those images that add to and build up to or lead away from the heroic images. So in the photobook every image seems to count but fundamentally stands alone. There's a more localised sequencing that can happen, such as the layout of multiple images on a page, or how a pair of images are selected on facing pages, providing that ying and yang that you land on when you open the book. But rarely do the surrounding pages really flow in any sort of important sense, other than perhaps as bundles of thematic ideas - all the same place, all the same colour, all women, all men. All standing essentially alone. If there is some reason to the structure or some advantage to following it, then people will. If there isn't or it isn't sufficiently compelling for people to care, then they wont. But if it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, now does it ?


Paul said...

Well, I certainly won't be agonizing over it! :-) Who's going to look at it in order anyway. Picture books, IMHO, are browsed randomly ... at least that's the way that I do it. I'm not going to get all 'twisted' trying to figure out an order that, in all likeliness, will be ignored.