The Secret Lives of Books at the Ayala Museum is a bookworm's dream

Never underestimate the power of a well-designed book.

( When you love reading books, it's easy to get engrossed in the story, not knowing that the experience of reading can also be affected by the book's appearance, such as the cover. "Book design is a very invisible field," said three-time National Book Award winner Karl Castro. "If the design is good, the reader will not notice it because the design can't upstage the material."


Karl Castro Secret Lives of Books


After working on books for 12 years and collaborating with Ricky Lee, Rolando Tolentino, and Floy Quintos, Castro presents his first solo exhibit featuring his book designs at the second floor of the Ayala Museum until June 5. Entitled Secret Lives of Books, the exhibit is organized by the Filipinas Heritage Library as part of the start of their Printed Word education program for 2016 and the celebration of their 20th year.


Castro says that people often have the misconception that his work begins and ends with the cover, but actually, it extends into the pages of the book. "In a way, book design is like film," he says, adding "There's a pace and a narrative." Confronting a big chunk of text can be boring, and that's when his expertise comes in. "What you do as a designer is you create entry points for different readers through elements like a well-placed quote or a headline." A book lover himself, he says that when he is conceptualizing, he puts himself in the readers' shoes and thinks about how design can help sustain their interest. 



Karl Castro Secret Lives of Books


Of his three National Book Awards, he said that the most surprising was his win for The Manila Synod of 1582: The Draft of Its Handbook for Confessors translated by Paul A. Dumol. He says his design isn't grand in any way, but he's grateful that the judges acknowledged his efforts to create something so deceptively simple.


Karl Castro Secret Lives of Books


Originally written by Bishop Domingo de Salazar on Spanish oppression of the Filipinos, the book survived as copies created by scribes. These scribes made the mistake of inserting annotations into the main text instead of putting them below the text as footnotes, and so when Dumol translated it, he had to make guesses on which ones were the annotations and which ones were the original text.


Karl Castro Secret Lives of Books


Castro had to work with three set of footnotes: one was the 17th Century footnote to the original text, another was Dumol's comment on that footnote, and lastly Dumol's own footnote to the original text. It might sound confusing, but Castro relied on his memory of medieval books which were designed to have wide margins. He then placed the 17th Century footnote below the original text, then Dumol's comment on that footnote beside it, and on the upper part of the left side margin was Dumol's comment on the original text. "You know where everything is," Castro said. "And if you don't want to be distracted by the footnotes, you can focus on the main text."   


Karl Castro Secret Lives of Books


Meanwhile, the project that made him feel a lot of pressure was Ricky Lee's Para Kay B as it was Lee's first literary piece in 20 years. Castro met Lee when he was 17 years old in a scriptwriting workshop and so when he heard about Lee's new book, he volunteered to design it for him. Lee wanted a design that could appeal to young readers, but Castro also wanted to make sure that the cover didn't alienate Lee's more mature audience.



He chose a reddish pink to reflect the love stories featured in the book to appeal across a range of readers. The interesting detail was how the "B" in the title became a cutout, like a window to a sky, and how a man is shown jumping into it. B refers to a character in the novel and throughout the story, the reader tries to find out who B is. Castro perfectly captures the mystery that surrounds the character and also the writer's journey into a new frontier.


There will be a free artist’s talk on May 25, Wednesday, at 3:30 p.m. Check out the Filipinas Heritage Library’s website for the complete schedule of activities.


The Ayala Museum is at Makati Avenue corner Dela Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati City. For more information, visit the Filipinas Heritage Library’s website.


Photos courtesy of the Filipinas Heritage Library and the Ayala Museum

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