The concept for my midterm book project was to present a short story by Franz Kafka in a way that aesthetically matched the tone of the work and incorporated design elements that evoke the look and feel of a creature that is central to the story.
The story I chose is called “The Worries of a Householder.” In the story, a man reflects on his occasional encounters with a bizarre creature called Odradek. The appearance and habits of the Odradek are discussed, and the narrator eventually reveals that he is very troubled by the apparent immortality of the creature in light of its lack of goals or purpose. In essence, “The Worries of a Householder” is a cerebral horror story with philosophically fascinating undertones.
My concept was a creative challenge to realize because it required me to think hard about how I could capture the tone and sensory details of the story in physical form. I knew that I didn’t want to get to gimmicky with my project—I wanted it to look and operate as a “traditional” book –so I started to look for ways to embellish the physical design without altering it from an easy-to-read shape. This led to structural challenges as well. I needed materials that would be relatively quick to assemble but that still looked nice and had a tactile quality. Kafka’s story makes several references to materials such as thread and wood, so I wanted to incorporate the look and feel of these into my project.
A fair bit of craftsmanship was involved in the bookmaking. I became quite adept at the stab bind and handy with an exact-o knife as well. My cover design also required a little extra sewing and some very delicate thread work, not to mention a bit of gluing too.
I think the stab bind was the right form for my project. The appearance of the overlayed thread on the front and back covers adds a nice dimension, and as a bonus, it keeps the pages very secure. I wouldn’t say that I stretched the book form much—there really was no need. The stab bind linked so well with the content of the book already that deviating from it would’ve moved me away from the simple look I wanted for the project.
All the visible thread is the main reason the stab bind works so well for this story. The Odradek is described as a kind of star shaped spool that has various lengths and colors of thread wound around it. Apart from evoking this description with the stab bind, I also added a physical representation of the Odradek to the cover. This graphical design is made from a very thin piece of cork, which I cut into a jagged six-pointed star. On top of the cork, a small, metal “wagon wheel” serves the dual purpose of adding its own texture and serving as a fixture for more thread to be tied to. Five different colors of 2 inch thread are tied to the spokes of the wagon wheel, swept to the left so as to trail behind the Odradek. Finally, two thin strips of brown cardstock are glued to the left of the Odradek to simulate the rod it uses to propel itself. While this rod is glued to the cover, the other elements are sewed on.
Typographically, the book was a bit of a chore. It took several attempts to lay it out in a way that minimized my paper usage, fit the text without looking cramped, and wasn’t obscured by the binding. Once I had my layout though, things went more smoothly. I used Modern No. 20 for my text, finding it to be pleasantly readable and not nearly as modern-looking as you would think. My title was set in Narkisim, chosen for its sharp, thin lines and the European-feel that it gave me, though I can’t back that up in any substantial way.
Graphically, I went with a nice illustration of the Odradek at the bottom of the staircase (a pivotal scene from the story). I thought that because so much of the story is centered on the physical appearance and strange qualities of the Odradek, it would be great if the reader had as clear an idea as possible of what one looks like. The drawing also just looks perfect- it’s simple and clean but very evocative.
I also sought ways to incorporate the cover’s theme of loose threads into the interior of the book. At first, I was going to stitch threads across the interior pages, but I wasn’t very confident in my ability to do that consistently or without messing up my limited supply of paper. I then thought of adding simple images of threads across the margins of the pages, but this too proved impractical, as there simply wasn’t much space left for that, and my early experiments looked cluttered. Finally, I settled on a twofold way of communicating the theme inside the book. First, I switched my title and colophon pages to a slightly more fibrous paper that you can actually see the various little colored fibers in. Second, I added another graphic on the colophon page, this one of a knotted tangle of thread. I think these subtle touches reinforce the visual connection to the content without detracting from the presentation of the text or hitting the reader over the head with the idea.
The title of my book is “The Worries of a Householder”, which is a translation of the story’s German title, “Die Sorge des Hausvaters”. Another way to go is “The Cares of a Family Man”, but as the house is much more of a character than the family in the story, I chose to emphasize that characteristic of the narrator. Also, “worries” more accurately captures the weight of the narrator’s reflections than “cares” does. I chose to use the story’s title as my title, as it was never released outside of various collections of Kafka’s short stories, and calling my book “A Collection of Short Stories by Franz Kafka” would be rather misleading.
If I were to make this book over again, I would mostly do things the same way, as I’m happy with my finished product. I would, however, choose paper that is easier to come by. I think the paper I used works great—it has the texture and worn look that I wanted –but I was only able to find one pad of it.