What we have here is a gem.
Not, it is true, a whole tiara of diamonds; not even a single Koh-i-Noor; but a precious stone nevertheless; one which has been carefully polished and shaped by a master craftsman.
Somewhere along the line, Andrew Losowsky came up with a wonderful idea. I doubt whether it was wholly original -- it might be argued that it goes back at least to Chaucer, and probably the ancient Greeks, but we won't worry about that; what matters with an idea is what you do with it.
Losowsky's idea was that he would take a series of photographs of doorbells, and write a short story -- perhaps a mere sketch of a few lines -- about the person(s) who live behind those doorbells.
In this case he chose to photograph the doorbells of Florence. That's Florence Italy, in case you're in any doubt. And, as you would expect from a city of that age, the doorbells themselves form an interesting collection.
Our author then set about writing a short piece about each of the owners. And for most people that would have been quite enough; they would have congratulated themselves on a brilliant idea, crisply executed. Lososwsky, however, goes one further. He introduces a thread which links both the first and the last stories, and which reappears on the surface of the cloth, so to speak, periodically throughout the book.
Now this is all very well and good. But if you know anything about publishing and printing you will be saying to yourself: Hmm. Thirty-six full-colour photographs of doorbells, and short bits about each of them, a page or two in length. This is going to be wickedly expensive to print, and who the hell's going to buy it? Nah. Pass. Send the usual rejection later, Mavis.
I don't know whether Losowsky tried to find an orthodox publisher or not. But my conviction is that, if he had, he would have got pretty short shrift.
And therefore what we have here is not merely a gem in itself: it is also a supreme and sublime example of what some refer to as the new publishing paradigm, but which is perhaps best referred to, in plainer English, as a writer taking full advantage of the new technology.
Even ten years ago, it was hard to self-publish a book without committing several thousand of whatever currency you're working in. Five years ago you could do a text publication far more cheaply. But only in the last year or two, I suggest, or possibly an even shorter a period, has it been possible to self-publish a collection of full-colour photographs on suitably glossy paper without having to expend a small fortune.
Very wisely, and enormously successfully, Losowsky chose to publish The Doorbells of Florence on Lulu. And only on Lulu. Here's the link.
Now you will notice at once, when you go to Lulu, that this book is relatively expensive: in sterling it's £16.45. That's because it's printed throughout on coated paper, so that the images reproduce well.
As we all know, if we've been studying Lulu, you can arrange for Lulu to publish your book and also to make it available through all the usual online and retail outlets. But if you do, those outlets add on a sizeable chunk of money for their trouble, which means that your book doubles in price. So that, I guess, is why Losowsky has stuck to a simple Lulu-limited arrangement. If you want it, buy it from Lulu. Don't bother looking for it e.g. on Amazon, cos it ain't there.
Personally I can only say that I think it is well worth it's money. I bought the book because I was intrigued by the concept; I wanted to see what sort of a fist Lulu and its associates would make of a book of this kind. Having read it I think it was more than fair value. The printing of the book seems to me to be pretty damn good. Image purists may prefer duotone reproduction on some even fancier paper, or whatever, but for most of us this level of quality will do very nicely.
Andrew Losowsky has been ably assisted in his endeavour by a designer, Nuno Vargas, who has done an excellent job.
In case you think I've gone on too long about the visuals, let me say that the actual writing is first class too. Andrew Losowsky is a journalist by profession, and he knows how to convey a great deal in a short space; what is more, his work is genuinely funny and moving. I recommend it.
By the way: only a couple of weeks ago, in reference to Mark Chadbourn, I was remarking that I had never before come across a paperback without anything on the front but a picture -- and now here's a second one. Maybe there's a trend starting.