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the Complete Review
the complete review - lecture


The Clothing of Books

Jhumpa Lahiri

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To purchase The Clothing of Books

Title: The Clothing of Books
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre: Lecture
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 71 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Clothing of Books - US
The Clothing of Books - UK
The Clothing of Books - Canada
  • Italian title: Il vestito dei libri
  • Translated by Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush
  • Delivered, in slightly different form, 10 June 2015 at the Festival degli Scrittori

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Our Assessment:

B : nice little personal piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Jhumpa Lahiri's keynote speech from the 2015 Festival degli Scrittori focuses not on the content of books, but on how they, as objects, are dressed up and presented.
       Lahiri's is a very personal take -- she writes especially of her own experience, and feelings -- but it nevertheless gives a decent impression of book covers and jackets as part of the publishing process (including how small the role of the author is in deciding how their book is to be presented to the world).
       Lahiri begins speaking not about books but about clothes, and how she often felt judged because of her clothes, both when visiting India -- where she envied her cousins' school uniforms -- and growing up in the United States (with both her classmates and her traditional mother judgmental). From here she moves to the books she has written, jacketed and covered in ways she has had little or no influence over -- and about which she admits:

[I]n my opinion, most of my book jackets don't fit me, which is why I sometimes think, as a writer too, that a uniform would be the answer.
       [Aside: as longtime readers know, I am a huge fan of the unadorned, simple, and completely uniform book jacket -- the way many French publishers do it, for example -- and can only say: hear ! hear !]
       It's good to hear her befuddlement about some of the cover-selections her books have been subjected to -- "How is it possible, I ask myself, that my book has been framed in such an ugly or banal way ?" -- but it's a shame that this small paperback isn't illustrated, with at least a few (or, ideally, all the) examples. (She estimates her books can now be found with: "in all, around one hundred different book covers. One hundred different interpretations".) And it's almost cruel for Lahiri not to reveal which one she is talking about when she admits:
     There is a certain awful cover for one of my books that elicits in me an almost violent response. Each time I am asked to autograph that edition, I feel the impulse to rip the cover off the book.
       Lahiri does mention and discuss some examples, of publishers' uniform series (such as the Piccola Biblioteca Adelphi, as well as of her own books (such as, specifically, In altre parole). Among the amusing observations: she received a book, an Italian edition of a novel written in English by an author of Indian origin, whose cover is: "identical in every detail" with the current US edition of her first book of short stories, making for a weird (yet all too common) sort of double-take.
       While Lahiri's perspective remains personal throughout, much that she describes is universal, such as the comforting familiarity of old covers in which we first encountered certain books (and how a new version can make it seem like a different book). She covers many aspects of what a cover means for a book -- to author as well as (potential or actual) reader --, with anecdotes and personal experience giving a more intimate feel to the discussion. This isn't a book-jacket-study; it's more like a casual discussion -- but Lahiri has thought about this quite a bit, and well, and presents a nice little summary here.
       Again: it's disappointing that this isn't a fully illustrated volume (though the fact that it isn't allows for the handy pocket-sized format that is always welcome), and that Lahiri doesn't offer a closer tour, even with without those visual aids, through her own book-covers, but the text alone will do, too, even if it is a bit of an in-between book -- longish for an essay, but much less than a full-blown-study.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 November 2016

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The Clothing of Books: Reviews: Other books by Jhumpa Lahiri under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

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© 2016 the complete review

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