Boom: Biography of Books


What can I say, Boom: Biography of Books by Irma Boom caught me completely by surprise. I went into the design library and their lay a plethora of books all different sizes, some in boxes and some not. I rifled through, and came to one that looked like the size of “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Opened it up and here is a book that an ant could manage to read. It was tiny and absolutely mesmerizing. I knew right away that I was going to do this paper on it.

To start let me give you a visual because the unorthodox approach is the essence of the book and the reason the book was made.

Size: This book was 1.5 inch (W) by 2 inch (H) by 1.5 inch (D). Total weight of this book is miniscule in comparison to other books she has made. It could easily fit in the palm of your hand or in your pocket with more than enough room to spare which gives it a personal aspect to the design. I found that it is easier to go through with one hand rather than using two, due to its size.

This book might be miniature but not for long! Irma uses this book as a tribute to all of the work she has done thus far into her career. Back in 2010 when this book was created, she was 59. Three years later there was another edition created called Boom: The Architecture of the Book, and it increased in size by 100 pages and a quarter inch per dimension. Granted that she lives long enough, from her workaholic mentality, she is planning on this book to become the size of a normal book by the time she is 80. At this time and the current rate of page increase it will most likely house over 2000 pages.

Color: Now because of its size, if you are thinking of stealing it you wouldn’t get very far because it’s also bright red. Not only the cover, but the page edges are also red. If this book was in your pocket, a bull would still see it and charge at you.

Material: The material of the cover is a kind of pleather. It is smooth and thicker than the individual pages. The pages are set up in a basic format. The body font is serif, 6pt, black and left aligned. The typography on the front cover is a decorative white font that looks like it was hand painted giving it a nice personal touch. The material in this particular book is not vital to the importance but normally her material choice is a big influence on the book as a whole. To give an example she made a book about car parts, for a French car maker Renault, that incorporated aluminum sheets instead of paper. The material in this case connected the content to the viewer, whereas in Boom the size connected the content.

Pages: The book was comprised of 700 pages and 450 images. There were two types of images, a one-page image and a two-page image. If the image was a one-page size it was centered to the folio which was centered on the bottom of the page. If the image was a two-page it was centered to the creep which I found to be unusual because it would run to far into the creep making it hard to visually see all of it. This was also unusual because she had plenty of margin on the top and sides, giving a good opportunity to make the images larger and thus a better resource. With some research, I found out that there is a reason for this. Judgmental and naïve, I have never printed a book that was this small before. The reason for this is because in case of a cutting that wasn’t perfect it wouldn’t cut off the images. It was also because the pictures weren’t meant to be seen with a fine-tooth comb.

This book was used as a tool to see a diversity or cohesive nature to her work as a whole. I think of it as a thumbnail to see what the bigger document is doing without being bogged down by giant pages. This is why it is easy to flip through quickly but really hard to flip one page after another. She has done with several of her other books including a book that is the size of a watch battery. Regarding other books that she has designed she uses the physical nature of the book to help the reader understand the book as a whole. For instance, she co-designed a book with Sheila Hicks that has a rug like feel to the edges of the pages and when you open the book, the pages are full of colorful rugs. This gives the reader a direct relationship to what you are reading and what you are feeling. Sheila Hicks book is also a part of NC States collection.

The website Magenta says it best, “Boom compares designing a book to constructing a building, and like a full-service architect, she not only determines the overall form the building will take but what furniture, lighting, and material finishes will decorate the inside.” She likes to connect what is seen inside the book and what the physical nature of the book is saying in combination.

She has created other books in this fashion to give her an idea of pace with her large book productions. I believe that this is the reason that this book is in NC State’s collection because it shows her process, along with her personal work and her overall thoughts towards the importance of precision and skill in printing.

Binding: To keep all of these pages together the book was beautifully bound with a perfect binding method. Normally, a book with this many pages is hard to spread open to see all of the creep. This book however, is so well done that you can see the whole creep when you spread the pages open. Even when you do this the pages don’t budge in the slightest. The work of a true master in book making.

She was obsessed with this idea of skill in book making and with every book she creates she adds a feature that embellishes the skill of the person printing the book. Either it is the actual size of the book that is impressive or the binding process.

History: Miniature books had their start in 1468 when Peter Schoffer published Diurnale Mogantinum. Schoffer’s book couldn’t compare to Boom’s in size because of the lack of technology in that era however is still under a benchmark of 4 inches tall. During this time most miniature books were in the form of bibles for portability. The production of miniature books went down until 1970’s when it picked back up because artists started experimenting with different ways of displaying typography.

All in all, this book is amazing despite its size. The precision and skill involved to create this book is inspiring and the level of her unorthodox way of thinking is a bench mark that a lot of future designers are going to have a tough time passing.