Tag Archives: Book and Literary

Abbeville vs. Chicago: Part 1

Anyone who’s ever wielded a red pen or stared down the business end of a semicolon will know that the Abbeville Manual of Style is not the only style guide in existence. (Not yet…not yet.) Its title is, of course, an homage to the Chicago Manual of Style, companion to generations of editors and supreme resource for settling bets about grammar. But as venerable as Chicago is, it wears its authority pretty lightly; its tone sounds less like that of a militant taskmaster (I’m looking at you, Will Strunk) than the harried referee of an all-out, never-ending rugby match among editors, writers, English teachers, and half a dozen other teams. It lays down the law when it needs to, but it’s more pragmatic than idealistic, given to saying things like “Where a variant spelling carries a special connotation within a discipline, the author’s preference should be respected” (7.4). Please, people, can’t we at least agree on that much?

Yet it’s Chicago’s admirable flexibility that leaves it open to the continual second-guessing of people who know everything, like the Arbiters of Style. (If Chicago’s Manual were 100% definitive, Abbeville’s wouldn’t exist, and what kind of world would that be?) As a service to any of our readers who might wish to compare these two classic texts, we’ll be periodically spotlighting points of grammar, usage, style, and, you know, style on which they differ. Let’s start with the entirely superficial:


For the cover of its 15th and most recent edition, the Chicago Manual opted for a bold color scheme, with tones ranging from “sherbet orange” to “Highway Department traffic cone orange.” The result isn’t subtle, but it’s not unattractive either, and it makes the volume easy to locate amidst books, manuscripts, and other piled-up debris. Compared to this blazing display, the online version looks a little pale, as though it’s trying to douse all that fiery orange with a flood of cool blue.

Meanwhile, the Abbeville Manual of Style uses a restrained, yet elegant template based loosely onwhat is it, WordPress?“MistyLook by Sadish,” and features a detail from the Sistine Chapel as its banner image. When it comes to style, it’s hard to argue with Michelangelo. We’d say Abbeville emerges as the clear winner in this category, but then again, we’re biased, and design savoir-faire has always been our strong suit. Next time we’ll square off against Chicago on a more level, and far more heated, battleground: Issues of Hyphenation.

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The Conservation of Style


While most of the publishing world twitters and chatters about the advent of the e-book, Abbeville Press glides through these uncharted technological waters as calmly as a Legendary Yacht. E-reading devices will certainly find a place in the market, but we don’t expect them to rock our boat anytime soon. True, they carry some obvious benefits: they’re compact, environmentally friendly (no wasted paper), and remarkably efficient, allowing instant access to whole libraries’ worth of material. But what they can’t re-create or rival is the book as aesthetic object: a lovable, tangible entity with worn or glossy pages to touch, old or new binding to smell, and of course, boring or striking cover to judge by. The art of writing can survive almost any presentation–great poems can be written on the back of an envelope and enjoyed on a subway ad–but the making of beautiful books is an art unto itself, and that’s where Abbeville comes in.

Frankly, we have a hard enough time squeezing all the virtuoso elegance of a volume like The History of Venice in Painting between the covers of a book, let alone onto a screen the size of an index card. (Even after 496 pages, we had to stuff Venice into a slipcase just to contain its overflowing awesomeness.) Digital books may save trees, but the volumes we produce conserve an equally endangered resource: style. As the publishing business (like the rest of the world) makes an Industrial Revolution-like leap into the future, art book publishers will become like small but necessary throwback towns in which homemade industry still thrives. And the capital of those towns will be a little place called Abbeville.

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Parties with Van Gogh


In recent weeks, Abbeville Press has attended two release parties in honor of one of our most stylish fall titles: Travels With Van Gogh and the Impressionists: Discovering the Connections, by Lin Arison and Neil Folberg. The first fête took place at Rizzoli Bookstore and featured short talks by author Arison and photographer Folberg about their unique collaborative effort: a combination memoir, travelogue, biography, art history study, photo essay, and cookbook (OK, not the last one). Guests enjoyed fine wine and conversation under the smoldering gaze of Lucie Rouart, the Van Gogh cover girl and descendant of Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot. (Rumor has it that one Abbevillian has a slight crush on Lucie, based solely on her photo, but even if that were true, which it isn’t, it would only be because she is a woman of consummate style.)

The second event took place at Christie’s auction house amidst a stunning collection of Impressionist and Modernist paintings, as well as a panoply of goat cheese canapés served on trays that Abbevillians tried hard not to tag along after like housepets. Arison and Folberg gave a more in-depth presentation about their book, and the art they discussed was as sumptuous as the lobster-and-bacon puffs, which provided the taste equivalent of a melting Monet sunrise.

Style Points


1.1. Impressionism is radical again. Arison and Folberg’s book has brought the movement bursting back to life, recapturing the freshness and daring of the work of Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, and Morisot, not to mention their early Modernist contemporary, Van Gogh. Arison’s text is carefully researched yet personal, illuminating the artists, their paintings, and their effect on her own life, while Folberg’s photographs, juxtaposed with Impressionist originals, ingeniously reinterpret the masters’ paintings in a contemporary spirit. Together, they remind us that if Van Gogh and company were in today’s New York, they’d be lurking around the Williamsburg fringe, bumming cigarettes and turning the art world on its (severed) ear.


1.2. When taking your fifth goat cheese canapé from a server’s tray, it is not necessary to laugh nervously and explain to the server how much you love goat cheese. She already knows.

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Dear Readers,

If only the world were more like an Abbeville Press book. Beautifully conceived and executed, tasteful and elegant, comprehensive and clear…instead we have this vague, awkward, confusing, poorly punctuated place that would take a few million years of editing to set straight, not to mention a major design overhaul.

Naturally, this kind of sloppiness bothers Abbeville. To quote our mission statement: “The company believes that publishing illustrated books is a distinct specialty, requiring exacting standards of editorial, design, and production savoir-faire. Abbeville is dedicated to extending this standard of excellence throughout its diverse list, its relationships with booksellers, and its partnerships in distributing.” But what about extending this credo to life? Don’t personal relationships demand excellence? Doesn’t good taste in art or music require exacting standards? Don’t cocktail parties require savoir-faire?

In order to lay down some much-needed guidelines in this rough-draft world, we at Abbeville have created a Manual of Style. This Manual will cover not only Abbeville’s immediate area of expertise, i.e., art and illustrated books, but any subject on which our opinions, experiences, and tastes might be relevant or helpful: publishing, the arts, events, trends, New York City, the universe, and so on. To avoid overwhelming the reader, the Manual will not be presented all at once in its full glory, but in an ongoing series of excerpts posted by its contributors on a semi-weekly basis. Some excerpts will contain “Style Points”—brief pronouncements on various pressing issues—while others will contain reviews, anecdotes, company news, and more. Taken as a whole, the Manual will provide an indispensable guide to redefining your world, Abbeville-style.

Style Points


1.1. The Manual of Style is a “manual,” not a “blog.” The word “manual” conveys authority, practicality, and concision. The word “blog” sounds like a dump truck landing in a swamp.

1.2. The contributors to the Manual are not “bloggers,” nor are they “editors.” They are “Arbiters of Style.” Their names are: Austin Allen, Briana Green, Erin Dress, Megan Malta, and Michaelann Millrood.

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