If I were a book is one of those “gift” books you give to readers – and it was in that spirit that it was given to me for my birthday a couple of years ago. It’s a delight of a book, and is somewhat quirkier than these sorts of book-lovers’ gift books often are, which is why I’ve decided, finally, to share it with you. Or, have you seen or read it already?
My edition is a little hardback of 60 plus pages produced in San Francisco in 2014. The original, however, was published in Portugal in 2011, the author being Portuguese. The illustrator, André Letria, happens to be his son. Now I hadn’t heard of José Jorge Letria before, but he was born in the Lisbon District of Cascais, in 1951, and is apparently, says Google’s translation from a Portuguese biography, “a journalist, poet, playwright, fiction writer and author of a vast work for children and young people.” This biography also tells us that he has won many many national and international literary awards, including the Unesco International Prize (France), the Barcelona Classical Poetry Prize, the Plural Prize (Mexico), the Prize of the Paulista Association of Art Critics (São Paulo), and the Gulbenkian Prize. He has won prizes for “the environment in children’s literature” and the Manuel de Arriaga Prize for his contribution to the defense and dissemination of animal rights. He has been on many Portuguese, European and international literary boards, and his books have been translated into “over a dozen” languages. Yet, I hadn’t heard of him, until, that is, I was given this delightful ….
… love-letter to the book and reading. I fell in love with its passion and idealism. The book comprises two-page spreads, each one containing an image and the phrase “If I were a book” followed by a response. So, the first image shows a person looking at a book on a park bench, with the phrase “If I were a book, I’d ask someone in the street to take me home.” (What a nice sign that would make for a street library!) The next shows this same person opening a larger-than-life book, inside which there are stairs descending into unknown depths, with the phrase “If I were a book, I’d share my deepest thoughts with my readers”. And so it continues…
What makes this book so delightful is the personalising of the book (as in “if I were a book”), the ideas expressed in these personalised phrases, and the illustrations. I’m not sure what is allowed by copyright, but I’ve chosen three images to share with you, so you can see what I mean:
I’ve chosen these three because the one suggests the way I like to read – slowly, savouring the words and ideas – and because the other two contain aspirations that I’d love books to achieve. You can see how in some images the book is supersized, while in others its size is more “normal”. The images are simple but beautifully whimsical, the colour palette is minimalistic, and the text’s font feels a little worn and loved.
And here, I think I’ll leave it, because what more, really, can I say?
José Jorge Letria
If I were a book
Illustrated by André Letria
Translated by Isabel Terry
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014 (orig. pub. 2011)