Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

Book Classification : Writing - Publishing - Graphic Design - Educational Theory : Student Motivation - Art History


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Goodbye Gutenberg , by Valerie Kirschenbaum
Hardcover - 416 pages
First Edition, October 2004
Published by the
Global Renaissance Society
ISBN 0-9745750-3-8 / ISBN 0974575038

Book Review

Goodbye Gutenberg is a beautiful book which presents the case for publishing beautiful books.

As a Bronx, New York high school teacher, Valerie Kirschenbaum is concerned about the decline in literacy generally, and attentive to reports by young students that they find literature much more interesting when it is colorfully illustrated. However, apart from pragmatic concerns for the education process, there is the historical fact that the art of writing had always been combined with visual beauty, from the dawn of civilization to the moment when the printing press was invented. It was mainly the limitation of the printing machine that imposed the rule that reading isn't supposed to be visually stimulating and enjoyable, but simply a visual scan of black letters arranged into rectangles. Now that the extravagant use of color and illustration is cheaper than the production of black and white text was a few decades ago, the author urges humanity to return to the original practice of keeping writing and visual beauty together.

Book Cover - Click to buy the book Valerie Kirschenbaum , Goodbye Gutenberg : How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Tradition and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance - Hardcover

So, what are we waiting for? Well, first of all, we need to overcome the widespread belief that colorfully illustrated books are only for children, that learning to take in ideas solely from words is an indicative part of growing up. We also need to persuade publishers to discontinue the industry tradition of having writing and book design done always by different people, so that "designer writing" will be permitted.

Oddly, the cultural inertia found in this area applies only to books. It is already expected that television, movies, video games, software, and magazines shall make the fullest use of colors and images.

About the Author

A 12 year veteran of New York City public schools, Valerie Kirschenbaum currently teaches at Wings Academy in the Bronx. She received grants from the International Reading Association and the Children for Children's Fund to develop innovative new methods of reading and writing. Among her many accomplishments, she is the first female writer in 500 years to design an original font for her own book and the inventor of the new genre of "designer writing."

- From the Publisher

It is generally believed that wordprocessors are tools for writers, and graphics programs are tools for illustrators. Kirschenbaum would like to see graphics software, font editors, etc. come to be viewed as writers' tools. However, she cautions against misinterpreting her meaning. She is not proposing that electronic books should become more popular that paper books. She likes paper. She is asserting, rather, that, regardless of the medium, computer screens or paper, books should be visual. If a book takes the despised form of rectangular blocks of words, its mere transfer from paper to a computer file would accomplish very little. The true potential of the computer is to reunite the two siblings, literature and colorful illustration.

Sample image from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

Forming the most persuasive part of her case, Kirschenbaum presents the appearance of several classics as they were published both before and after Gutenberg: the Bible, Dante, Virgil, Aristotle, Aquinas, Boccaccio, Cicero, Homer, Ovid and Augustine. [106-116] The author demonstrates that the printing press replaced artistic elegance with relatively ugly rectangular fields of black letters. Next, the author shows admirable examples of "designer writing" through the ages: the Egyptian Book of the Dead [119], ancient Greece and Rome [122-127] ancient China [128-133], scrolls in the library of Alexandria [124], the use of gold and silver for writing [123], the Mayans [134-137], Islam [138-143], the Torah [144-149], books of Aristotle produced in medieval Europe [150-155], and the books of Hinduism and Buddhism [156-165].

Sample image from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

People in certain careers -- teachers, writers, graphic designers -- absolutely must read and study Goodbye Gutenberg . Lovers of books and art will merely enjoy it a great deal.

Also recommended as a collector's item or a gorgeous gift. The first printing of the first edition was limited to 4,700 copies.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

The complete title of the book is Goodbye Gutenberg : How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Tradition and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance

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Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum
ISBN 0-9745750-3-8 / ISBN 0974575038

Book Description from the Publisher

Sample image from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

This widely anticipated verbal and visual masterpiece by Valerie Kirschenbaum, a high school teacher in the Bronx, has early reviewers raving. With 860 gorgeous, full color images from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Maya, India, China, Japan, Tibet, and medieval Europe (many never seen by an American audience), Kirschenbaum provides what world renowned graphic designer Milton Glaser described as "the visual history of the universe and its relationship to writing." She combines the breathtaking beauty of illuminated manuscripts with today's latest technologies to create a scintillating multisensory experience.

But Goodbye Gutenberg is more than just a book. It is a cultural heirloom for your family, a gem to own and cherish for a lifetime. This is a once in a lifetime chance to own a limited first edition printing.



Book Excerpt

Sample page from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

"It is strange that those who have been most passionate about the appearance of the words were not -- and still are not -- the writers. We expect writers to read, research, write, edit, polish and even evangelize their books, but not to design them. We still consider writing and design separate activities. We still think either verbally or visually. There have been so many great singers who wrote their own songs, so many great directors who wrote their own screenplays. Yet who can name a single great book of the past 50 years, a book for adults that is great in the writing and great in the design? Who can name a single 'designer writer' of any stature? 'Designer prose' is not yet a phrase. 'Designer books' is not yet a genre. 'Designer writers' have not yet been born." [Page 39]


Book Excerpt

Sample page from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

"History teaches that new technologies foster new leaps of artistic creation. In ancient Greece, for example, the invention of red figure ceramic processes allowed Greek vase painters to transcend the limitations of classical drawing and express themselves in powerful new ways. During the Renaissance , the discovery of new colors from the Orient and the brilliant innovations of Jan van Eyck with oil paint had a profound impact on Italian art. With impressionism , we see new pigments, new brushes and new tubes each having a dramatic impact on the style of painting. Philip Ball has found that of the approximately 20 pigments identified in Impressionist painting, 12 were new synthetics." [Page 70]


Book Excerpt

Sample page from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

"Yet despite color having become so inexpensive a commodity, we still write in black. We seem to echo Henry Ford's famous words that we write in any color we want as long as we write in black. In fact, Ford insisted on painting his cars black only because black enamel dried quickly and allowed his workers to keep up with the conveyor belt. When it became economical to color his cars, he did so. Now that it is economical to color our words, we will do so, too." [Page 73]


Book Excerpt

Sample page from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

"With our design technologies getting even more economical, designer writing is inevitable. One word: inevitable. It might take another decade or two, but the Gutenberg model has to collapse because it was, in the final analysis, a technological innovation. It was never representative of a universally preferred way or reading and writing. Bring a Mayan or an Egyptian back to life, show him a printed black and white page, and he would have said that you are crazy to stare at such monotony for hours on end." [Page 83]


Book Excerpt

Sample page from the book Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

"Reading wants to be fun. Verbally fun. Visually fun. We now think of reading, of the movement of our from left to right, as a means to an end. The end in to interpret the sounds, to understand what the words mean as quickly as possible, not to PAUSE and ADMIRE the shape of the letters or the Beauty of the layout. We give our eyes nothing to see, nothing to nibble on. Our eyes move like soldiers from left to right: left, right, left, right, left, right ... " [Page 214]


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This is an Amazon.com link for
Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum
ISBN 0-9745750-3-8 / ISBN 0974575038