Originally designed and produced in the Netherlands, the flipback is the next innovation in book formatting. Rather than the spine opening horizontally, with page-turns from right to left, it opens vertically, with page turns from bottom to top. The books themselves are tiny (about 12 cm by 8 cm by 1.5 cm) and thus infinitely portable.
I was initially very sceptical about the design of flipbacks. They seemed like an attempt to capitalize on pure trendiness. But, as I try not to rush to judgement with these things (except possibly when it comes to e-books), I picked up a copy of Cold Mountain to give flipbacks a try. After only a week, I am decidedly a flipback convert.
Apart from the obvious advantages of the tiny size of flipbacks (travellers and devoted trampers should all rejoice that they can now carry full length novels at a fraction of the size and weight), the joy of flipbacks is the tactile experience. In order to fit all of the text into such a small package, flipbacks are printed on beautiful onionskin paper. The amazing satiny feel of this high quality paper is very reminiscent of many editions of the Bible and other Holy Books, which somehow serves to enhance the feeling that you are holding something precious. If, like me, you have more commonly encountered this type of paper while worshipping at the church of the Norton Anthology (aka the English Literature departments at many fine centres for higher learning), the experience is still one of reverent inner joy.
For those of us who grew up in the eighties there is an added comfort to the similarity of shape and feel between the outside of the flipback and an audio cassette. This evocation makes the tactile experience of the flipback seem simultaneously retro and cutting edge.
For commuters, the flipback format is easy to enjoy on a crowded bus or train, as it only requires one hand to hold comfortably. While reading during lunch breaks (I’m not the only one, right?), you can either hold the flipback this same way (with your fork in the other hand), or, as noted by The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley, lay the book on a table, the unique spine allowing it to stay open to your place without assistance.
Now for the downsides: While I personally love the feel of the onionskin paper, I should admit that due to its thin-ness, it is occasionally hard to turn one page rather than two. Also, despite its tiny size, the flipback costs about the same as a normal small-format paperback. I would argue, however, that in terms of paper quality and tactile enjoyment, the flipback is better value for money than the average standard paperback, and a lot more versatile.
For the moment, the only titles available as flipbacks in the New Zealand market are (follow the links for the individual titles):
The Adventure of English ‐ Melvyn Bragg
Cloud Atlas ‐ David Mitchell
Cold Mountain ‐ Charles Frazier
Liar’s Poker ‐ Michael Lewis
A Million Little Pieces ‐ James Frey
Misery ‐ Stephen King
One Day ‐ David Nicholls
The Other Hand – Chris Cleave
Piece of My Heart ‐ Peter Robinson
Shades of Grey ‐ Jasper Fforde
Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy ‐ John le Carré
But the next set are due out soon. I recommend starting with Cloud Atlas or Cold Mountain.
Even if you’re still sceptical, like I was, give a flipback a try. They have all the portability of an e-reader, and you don’t even have to wait until the plane reaches cruising altitude.
For more information on flipbacks, check out the following: