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It’s probably hopelessly old fashioned of me but I love books and bookshops. Books in covers, made of paper, lovingly conceived, designed, produced and edited. I feel protected, safe and at home walled-in by them in a bookshop. Especially proper bookshops, where the books are piled high in apparent disorder but whose shopkeepers know exactly where to find the book you might be looking for.

I took to reading novels and guidebooks with Kindle on my iPad for a while, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The most important thing is that people write and people read, and to some extent the format is irrelevant as long as that continues. I would say that the digital format is less conducive to concentration, however. And rumours of the death of the book are premature.

In any case, to my mind the physical, tactile, artifact book is in the top tier of creative production. Books are to keep or, at worst, to resell. Unlike newspapers and magazines, books are rarely thrown out for recycling. Opening a box of new books fresh from the printers (as long as the printers have done their job properly) and inhaling that fresh print aroma is one of the great joys of life.

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In the running for Finland’s Most Beautiful Book of the Year, with text in English and Finnish

So I was thrilled this week to learn that my latest book, Suomenlinna – Islands of Light, is being entered in the Most Beautiful Books of the Year awards in Finland by the publisher, Docendo. This is the kind of book that wouldn’t work well on an iPad. It’s a book for browsing at leisure in a way you couldn’t really do on a digital screen. Bear in mind too that Finland was rated as the World’s Most Literate Nation in 2016, so it should know a thing or two about what makes a good book.

The honorary awards (no cash or other prizes are handed out) are judged by the Finnish Book Art Committee, whose aim is…

…to draw attention to the book as an artistic whole. When choosing the Most Beautiful Books of the Year the Committee tries to find works in which form and content support each other as well as possible. The starting point for evaluating works is the overall graphic design, beginning with the typography and ending with the finished printed product. As well as classical printing skills, the Committee values fresh and new creative solutions.

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Back cover shot from Islands of Light. Suomenlinna feels a world apart from Helsinki, although it’s only a 15-minute ferry ride away.

The beauty of book, which is a collection of photographs of Helsinki’s most atmospheric and historic quarter, its UNESCO World Heritage-listed sea fortress, is largely thanks to its designer, my friend Ea Söderberg. She also designed my eBook, Motion Pictures – a travel photographer’s companion. OK, so I’ll snatch some of the credit for the contents. Especially since I’ve spent countless hours out there in all weather. But I can’t design books. That is a different talent with which Ea is blessed. The shots here are from the book.

View of Suomenlinna from Vallisaari island, Helsinki

View of Suomenlinna from Vallisaari island, Helsinki. Vallisaari is one of several islands that used to be restricted to the military for many years but which are now opening up to the public. A good thing too: why should the military get all the best islands?

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As well as showing view of the islands throughout the year, the book introduces some members of the community who live and/or work in the fortress – artists, musicians, craftspeople, museum curators, naval officers, all sorts of interesting people. This is traditional boat builder Mikael Holmström.

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If you get the chance to visit Suomenlinna on a really cold winter’s day, when the steam is rising from the sea as the mercury plummets, you might be rewarded with scenes like this. Your fingers might also drop off if you’re not wearing gloves. Then how will you turn the pages of my book when you’ve bought it?

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The view of Helsinki looking north across the South Harbour from Suomenlinna. I wish I had a euro for every time I’ve made the ferry crossing over this little stretch of water in the last few years. 

Obviously I’m not going to wind up without urging you to consider Islands of Light for your Christmas shopping list. Not as a stocking filler, unless you want big book-shaped stockings, but as a full-blown gesture-of-love top-class gift! You can order it online at this link or contact me directly if you have any trouble getting your hands on a copy! And wish me luck in those awards.

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