What is a book? A paean to the power of Graffiti Lives

by Ilene Kalish, Executive Editor at NYU Press

Ilene Kalish and Gregory Snyder
Ilene Kalish and Gregory Snyder

There’s a lot talk these days about the rise of new media and the inevitable “death of the book.” You’ve all heard this. Such talk is a little more alarming for me as I am a book editor, so if books die I will perish (or at least my job will) too. And yet, the publication of this wonderful new book, Graffiti Lives, by Greg Snyder is a compelling testament to why that talk is completely wrong.
What is a book? A book is a sustained, engaged, thoughtful and, hopefully, interesting—even entertaining!—examination of a topic, be it illegal immigration, body image or graffiti. Greg’s book asks: Why graffiti? What is it? Who does it? Why do they do it? How do they do it? Where do they do it? And how as a society do we—should we—respond to it?

These are great questions. The form of the book itself allows for an expansive and serious engagement with these issues (and many more). Graffiti Lives also includes photographs throughout, some even in color. The hues of the graffiti shine brightly and beckon the eye to linger on the lovely colors and curves of these pieces.

I guarantee you that after reading his book you will never be able to look at graffiti the same way again. Our office is located just off of Union Square in downtown Manhattan. Like much of the city we are surrounded by graffiti, it’s everywhere you look—on walls, on trucks, on mailboxes. Often when I come into work in the morning there are one or two trucks parked in front of our building, many covered in graffiti—some elaborately, others with just tags. Before I met Greg I mostly saw this graffiti as white noise. My eye might be captured for a moment but never intensely, for the most part I just ignored it.

I realize now that I spent my whole life looking at something and thought I knew what it was, but after working on this book I now know that there are layers of meaning, beauty, and attitude that I hadn’t even realized were there. That’s the wonder of this book: you can read it and suddenly a whole new world is revealed. To me, that is ultimately the true power of the book. And that is why they will live.

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