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A Publishing Craze Wish: Touch-and-Feel Books for Adults!

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Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

I’ve been managing the kids’ section of a bookstore for several years now, and one thing it’s done is give me very strong opinions about children’s books. When we get a new shipment of kids’ books in, I often find myself exclaiming “Touch-and-feel books! Everyone loves touch-and-feel books.” And then I start carefully flipping through each page to feel the textures. When I’m pricing used books, I have the excuse of having to make sure that they’re still in good condition, but the truth is, I just like the different textures. I’ll stroke the cover of a book if it has interesting embossing. So why aren’t there touch-and-feel books for adults?

In fact, kids get all the interactive books. From quiet books to pop-ups, search-and-find to lift-the-flap, there’s a plethora of ways to interact with children’s books. There are even books that make noises! (A favourite only when you’re giving them to other people’s kids.) But head up to the Fiction section, and there is pretty much only one way to interact with a book, unless you head into extremely experimental territory.

Does it have to be that way, though? We’ve recently been able to concede that adults still love to colour, so why not also admit that we remain tactile creatures even when fully grown? It’s incredible to me that given the sophistication of pop-up technology now, there are still very few (if any?) aimed solely at adults. Why can’t we have fantasy books with a pop-up map? (Or a sci-fi book with a pop-up spaceship??) Why not have mystery books with search-and-find clues in the endpapers?

I realize that non-traditional books would be more expensive to produce, but if they’re profitable enough at children’s books prices, surely they’re doable with the I’m-a-grown-up mark-up. (Another thing working in the children’s section has done to me is instill an enduring horror at how expensive adult books are.)

To be honest, I’m not sure how you could incorporate textured elements into a novel. An art book or design book could probably be improved with samples of brush stroke textures and fabric samples, but I’m not sure how a story could weave in tactile elements. I suppose it would just be an illustrated novel with textured elements to the illustrations. It doesn’t have to be the exaggerated textures of board books, even, just subtle raised patterns. I’ll be first in line for the novel that tries it.

Unless my googling skills need work, this is something that has never been attempted before. (Though there is a book of different textures to facilitate stimming in autistic adults, and there are tactile books for blind people, but those are aimed at children as well.)

What do you think? Does a post-adult colouring books world have room for touch-and-feel books for adults? Are scratch-and-sniff cookbooks on the horizon? Have you seen interactive adult books out in the wild, or are we expected to be above that once we graduate to chapter books? And, of course, the eternal question: is it just me? Does no one else miss interacting with books as physical objects as well as containers for a story? Let me know!