What are some beautiful German books

The most beautiful German books"Bad design can break content"

Maja Ellmenreich: Nice? Is such a nice word - with the voiceless SCH at the beginning, the not that often occurring Ö in the middle and the lingering N at the end. Actually, as if made for the radio, and yet with "Kultur heute" we have something like a "collective allergy" to the word "beautiful". A nice evening at the theater? A nice picture? A nice concert? We want to know more precisely, and that's why we have "beautiful" on the unwritten index.

Today, however, we are actually about "beautiful books" - the "25 most beautiful German books" of 2017. The Book Art Foundation had them selected by two expert juries and announced them today: including novels and non-fiction books, as well as cookbooks, Picture books for children and exhibition catalogs.

Katharina Hesse is the managing director of the "Stiftung Buchkunst", which for over 50 years has made it its mission - quote - to promote the quality of the book in technical and artistic terms.

Ms. Hesse, you have noticed that the word "beautiful" occupies us with "Kultur heute" because we - with all due respect - find it a bit meaningless. How are your jury members doing - do they agree on what makes a "beautiful book"?

"The cover must match the interior design and the content"

Katharina Hesse: Of course, they don't always agree, because beautiful is of course also something extremely subjective. That is why we have put together a huge catalog of criteria that makes it as objective as possible.

I partly agree with you: The word "beautiful" is of course a very flat word and doesn't describe much. We could also call the competition "The Most Coherent German Books", but then we probably wouldn't be speaking together on the radio today.

Ellmenreich: Consistent is more beautiful than beautiful. - What exactly is correct? A beautiful book doesn't have to be a good book, if I understand you correctly.

Hesse: Doesn't necessarily have to be. Basically, a beautiful book is a book that conveys in its design and processing what the content wants to convey to the reader or viewer. And of course it all depends on the genre we are in. You have already listed a few. Of course, a beautiful scientific book looks very, very different from a beautiful exhibition catalog.

Ellmenreich: That includes more than the cover, which can sometimes be misleading?

Hesse: Yes. Unfortunately, this is very, very often the case that the cover is misleading. But those are the books that don't make it into the 25 most beautiful books. That is a criterion, it is also written like this: The cover must match the interior design and of course the content. And very, very often books are sorted out because the cover should of course stimulate the reader to buy this book. It's a marketing object. But it must also not pretend to be wrong.

Ellmenreich: That’s the first impression, so to speak. The first few seconds are decisive in the interpersonal encounter, but probably also in the encounter between person and book. Now I understand your award and the work of the Book Art Foundation as a kind of lobbying work for the artistic design of books. But what about the customer and his purchase decision? Does the eye-catching appearance or, in your opinion, probably the artistic design of a book play a role in the sales figures?

"Bad design, bad typography can destroy content"

Hesse: One can certainly observe with smaller productions or rather independent publishers that, of course, an award with us might bring the books into the bookstores sooner and thus be more likely to be discovered. With a Paul Auster, I don't think our award plays a major role. But that's not the point for us. It is important to us that we want to talk about these topics, namely for good as well as bad, namely that bad design, bad typography can also destroy content. And of course the 25 most beautiful help us speak, how can you make it as perfect as possible. There is no such thing as absolutely perfect, but making it as perfect as possible.

Ellmenreich: You have already mentioned Paul Auster's novel "4 3 2 1". With its 1,200 pages, it is one of the 25 most beautiful German books. When it comes to cookbooks, illustrated books and picture books, it immediately becomes clear to me what a beautiful, good design is. But what is nice about a novel?

"You only notice it when it's just done badly"

Hesse: A novel is beautiful when it is legible, and it becomes legible not only through the language of the author, but also, crucially, through the sentence, through the choice of font, through the placement of the font on the page, through the choice of the paper. With 1,200 pages you can imagine: If you choose the wrong paper, the book will fall apart. And that you read a book with pleasure and it is something that you as a reader do not even notice, but I think you only notice it when it is simply badly done and when your brain can no longer jump through the lines because something is blocked, holes in the sentence, the type area is too wide.

Ellmenreich: The eye reads along, if you want to summarize it like that, but so does the hand, also the haptic. That is a bit lost with the e-book. That has not displaced the physical book from the book market, as some feared, but still: the e-book that we buy as a file and that we do not actually hold in our hands, but only via an e-book reader make visible, is the e-book the natural enemy of book art?

"Even digital texts should be designed as well as possible"

Hesse: Not necessarily. Unfortunately, only the e-book is far from what the paper book can. Especially with complex content, with books that you do not read linearly, do not have to get a lot of information from front to back, then an e-book simply works differently. And you will know it: you have the visual. You usually know exactly what is where when you have a book in hand. This does not apply to the e-book. We'll just take a travel guide now. Somehow I remember there was a picture on the left side of Cologne Cathedral and something was written there and I remember that. And when I look for that, I have it relatively quickly, simply because my brain has memorized how this page was structured. You can't just leaf through an e-book. You then have to set a bookmark or know relatively exactly what page number that is on. A structure of a paper page, leafing through paper, can do this much, much better than is currently solved in the e-book. But that doesn't mean it's our enemy. We also think it's important that digital texts are designed as well as possible.

Ellmenreich: There was absolutely no talk of digital texts in the Middle Ages, when book art and book illumination were very, very particularly flourishing. That was a long time ago, but do you see now - I was talking about lobbying your foundation earlier - do you see a renaissance of book art today, or rather the declining book art again? How would you judge that?

"As many books as possible should have a design standard"

Hesse: No, at the moment it is increasing, but mainly in terms of materiality. There is clearly more focus on it, what is the material of a cover, how is paper, how is the book processed. We can see that already. Of course it's wonderful when you have great illustrated books and also very opulent works, but that's not our primary concern. Basically, it is important to us to lobby for every book. Whether this is a small bird guide or a large illustrated book, our goal is that as many books as possible that are published in Germany also meet a standard, a design and manufacturing standard.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.