The Rijksmuseum’s new Country Series of books aims at accessibility. ‘These are books for the average non-fiction reader,’ as one panel member put it. The cover colour schemes are a reference to the colourways used by the museum, with a nod to Mondrian.
Both of these books, also available in English as Silk Thread. China and the Netherlands from 1600 and Bitter Spice. Indonesia and the Netherlands from 1600 respectively, excel in their sincere simplicity of form. These are ‘books that are easy to penetrate,’ restrained and uncluttered, with short chapters of ten to twenty pages, and they don’t overwhelm you. Some panel members, however, found the series a little too ‘institutional’. Are they really any more than an exhibition catalogue that you take home and then can’t remember whether you actually went to the exhibition? Are they a bit too much a case of content being forced into a format? Or is the concept too shallow?
‘These aren’t sexy books,’ one panel member said. ‘But the fact that subjects like these are being singled out for this kind of concentrated attention is good. And they do seduce you into reading them,’ said another, impressed by among other things the clear layout in columns. Also conspicuous is the way works of art have been photographed in situ rather than reproduced out of context: ‘quite a fad, these days’. As gifts for readers interested in such matters, both books fulfil their function cheerfully and skilfully.