Turn the page and look at the pictures…

November 30, 2014

I wrote about books as objects of beauty here a few  weeks ago; doing some tidying up of my shelves, I was reminded of all the books I love to look at, rather than read from cover to cover. I’m sure everyone must have some. I had thought of calling this post ‘book p*rn’ but thought that might give some people the wrong idea…

I’ve always loved atlases; one of my earliest Christmas presents as a child was an atlas, and I’ve never looked back. No contemporary atlas beats The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, though it doesn’t balance easily on the knees; I’m onto my second copy, what with the world having changed so much in 1991 and subsequently that I needed a new one for all the place name changes. But I can pore over it for hours, looking at the beauty of placenames, contours, mountains, islands…

I scored a great bargain about twenty years ago when I go a copy of the Daily Telegraph Atlas as published in 1919 – a veritable time machine with an almost unrecognisable Europe and a completely unrecognisable rest of the world. Beautifully produced, it make the Times Atlas look small. Some years ago Taschen, the German publishers, reproduced a large selection of Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior of the 1660s, and I couldn’t resist that! You can see the world part way through Western white man’s discovery of it; the engravings are beautiful. the illustrations and decorations – especially in the unknown parts of the world – magnificent. I turn the pages and wonder.

You would expect an ex-English teacher to have something to say about Shakespeare…I treated myself to a reproduction of the First Folio of 1623, and I love to look at my favourite plays and read the speeches in that antique font, the old style ‘s’, the ligatures between ‘c’ and ‘t’. It’s an object of great beauty and fascination, and whenever I’m in London near the British Library I go in to see the real thing, and shivers run down my spine.

I’ve written enough about desert travel in this blog for no-one to be surprised that I have several books of stunning photographs of deserts in various parts of the word. I prefer my deserts without people; I don’t mind close-ups though I think I prefer panoramas, and I’m still amazed at the variety of landscapes, rocks, colours, since the immediate association with the word ‘desert’ is usually ‘sand’.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to explore the world of art more deliberately, and to learn a little. I like exhibitions, when I can get to them, and galleries when I’m on my travels, and books of reproductions when I’m unable to do either. I can gaze in wonder upon Turner’s oil paintings and watercolours happily for hours. I did not realise my luck in seeing my favourite of his, Modern Rome, at an exhibition in Edinburgh before it was snaffled by the bottomless money-pit that is the Getty Museum in the US. And large tomes of Monet, and Kaspar David Friedrich are also on the shelves, and often off them.

There’s something about sitting down and just turning pages, rather than reading, that makes me feel a little guilty, but I comfort myself with the thought that it’s a throwback to my childhood days, when one was allowed to turn over pages and look at pictures…

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