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Still Searching for Sebald

dillbohner-itinerary-2.jpgDetail from: Christel Dillbohner, Itinerary for a Walking Tour Through East Anglia

I have wanted so badly to read the newly published book Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. I have moved it from desk to bedside to couch and now back to desk. And you may ask yourself (to quote the Talking Heads): What is the problem here? Why isn’t he reading this wonderful book?

Recently I wrote about the reader-friendly books of the Everyman’s Library, which encourage long-term relationships. Searching for Sebald is, shall we say, a horse of a different color? On my home scale the 632-page soft-cover volume weighs in at about four pounds. Thank goodness it appears to be well-made. The sewn binding hasn’t cracked (yet), and it has French wrappers, which I have come to increasingly appreciate in oversize soft-cover books (like in the new Penguin Classic Deluxe editions). I would quibble with the choice of Bembo as the text typeface, and here’s the problem: a book this heavy is going to sit on the desk or on my lap, placing it farther from my usual reading distance. It may be my aging eyes and graduated lenses, but Bembo strikes me as too thin and delicate to be comfortably read from much distance, so I find myself bending over this book like a scribe.

I’ll be honest and say that I’d rather be reading this in a multi-volume set with a slipcover. After all, the book is nicely divided into four sections entitled Shoeboxes, Webs, Weaving and Dust. I realize that would undoubtedly affect the price, but at the deeply discounted prices available on-line hovering around $26, Searching for Sebald book is already one-third the cost of several other considerably slimmer academic books on Sebald. I’m ready to pay more for a book I can actually read.

Is this a complaint? Well, the book’s format certainly has provided an easy excuse to procrastinate. For the moment, I’ll just continue to dip into Searching for Sebald in short spurts. Last night, for example, I discovered one of the book’s discrete surprises hidden away after page 387. I thought I was opening up an ordinary gate-fold, but when Christel Dillbohner’s Itinerary for a Walking Tour Through East Anglia (the original is a drawing on waxed mulberry paper) is fully spread out the illustration is nearly 45 inches long and extends over six pages. Dillbohner’s daunting, but entrancing Itinerary, which resembles a palimpsest more than anything else, serves as an apt metaphor for the way I am approaching this book.


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