Both Birkensnake covers were designed by Chemlawn; as far as I can tell, Chemlawn is a person, not a collective. The first Birkensnake has a screen-printed fold-out cover of reds and pinks, held together by a weighty white; on the front is an image of a backpacked person with his or her hair – or something hair-like; perhaps a mop top – bound by some constricting measuring-tape-like strip. “Birkensnake” is written in lovely cursive at the top, and around the figure are bum- and peach-like shapes. It was unintentional that I used “-like” so often in this description, but fitting; the same is true of the cover of the second issue of Birkensnake. They call to mind objects and shapes with practical purposes, but these purposes are abstracted by the surreality of the compositions. The front cover of my copy of Birkensnake I was printed on the photocopied inside jacket of the Index for Radiological Diagnoses, 4th Edition; the back cover is printed on what seems an envelope slip for radiological testing. Birkensnake II was screen-printed on velour paper and then blowtorched. On the front cover “BIRKEN” is spelled out in block letters, on the back “SNAKE,” and beneath it, somewhat smaller, “TWO”; when opened, it spells out “SNAKEBIRKEN.” The font – I believe for both, with several exceptions in the second issue – is Bitstream Charter, with Pazo Math for its numerals. All copies of both issues are hand-bound by Ruocco, Conn, and friends. They are beautiful to look at and fun to hold, even though the cover of the second issue may contain lethal contaminants. The handmade quality of both – the application to each individual copy of Chemlawn's design by Ruocco and Conn's hands – gives them the quality of personalized presents made by friends; that they both contain some of the best new fiction turns them into unique objects of unwieldy and copious delights.
I am one of those many people who says he likes to be surrounded by books. I am currently living in a sublet, so I am surrounded by some of my books and a lot of another person’s books. But it is only in several rare instances that what I love about a book is both its text and its objecthood; I love most of my books for what they represent; only rarely do I also love them for what they physically are. Few of these books can I say I am distinctly proud to have. I am proud to have Birkensnake.
Birkensnake I in Nepal. Photograph by Neeman Mohibullah.
Birkensnake II in Iceland. Photograph by Michelle Carriger.