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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Blurbettes: Faux Real: Genuine Leather and 200 Years of Inspired Fakes


Blurbettes: Faux Real: Genuine Leather and 200 Years of Inspired Fakes by Robert Kanigel (Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2007) comes with two holes in the dust jacket. More on that later.

From the front inside flap.

“What makes genuine leather genuine? What make real things…real? In an age of virtual reality, veneers, synthetics, plastics, fakes, and knockoffs, it’s hard to know.

“Over the centuries, men and women have devoted enormous energy to making fake things seem real. As early as the 14th century, fabric was treated with special oils to make it resemble leather. In the 1870s came Leatherette, a new bookbinding material. The 20th century gave us Fabrikoid, Naugahyde, Corfam, and Ultrasuede. Each claims to transcend leather’s limitations, to do better than nature itself—or at least to convince consumers that it has.

“Perhaps more than any other natural material, leather stands for the authentic and the genuine; GENUINELEATHER, like a single German word, is how we think of it. Its animal roots etched in its pores and in the swirls of its grain, leather serves as cultural shorthand for the virtues of the real over the synthetic, the original over the copy, the luxurious over the shoddy and second-rate.

“From formica, vinyl siding, and particle board to cubic zirconium, knockoff designer bags, and genetically altered foods, inspired fakes of every description fly the polyester pennant of a brave new man-made world. Each represents an often passionate journey of scientific, technical, and entrepreneurial innovation. Faux Real explores the borderland of the almost-real, the ersatz, and the fake, illuminating a centuries-old culture war between the authentic and the imitative.”

From the rear inside flap.

“Robert Kanigel is the author of the critically acclaimed The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He also wrote Apprentice to Genius and The One Best Way, a biography of efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor. Kanigel is a professor of science writing at MIT, where he directs its Graduate Program in Science Writing. He has worked with leather, off and on, for more than 30 years.”

From the rear panel, next to a hole.

“Is it real or faux real? You decide. Tell us if you feel the material covering this book is real or faux real—and let us now what you think of the book. Win money-saving coupons and get fun facts about the material used to cover this book when you participate. E-mail now!”

The boards are kind of a sickly yellow color, very cheap to the touch. The contest should really be whether they are leatherette or fake leatherette.

I emailed the following message weeks ago.

“This book was very interesting—certainly the best I’ve ever seen on real and fake leather. I am going to guess that the cover is actually made out of fake leather, because you could totally fake us out good by using real leather, but that would probably cost so much more that it wouldn’t be worth it.”

Thus I participated, but did not receive a reply from this National Academy of Sciences address, let alone any money-saving coupons or fun facts. What could be more transitory than an email address in a book, but I sent it in the year of publication and half expected the promised bounty. Were they so flooded with responses that they’ve had trouble keeping up? Was this just a cheap gimmicky promotion they never intended to honor? Or was the offer itself fake, serving as intentional irony? You decide.



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