Art + Design

Fiction or Non-Fiction? Getting the Inside Story at SF Design Week

We love SF Design Week. AIGA’s annual showcase of Bay Area design, which wrapped up last week, lets us check out the local design scene and get inspired by our creative peers and neighbors. It’s also an opportunity for us to open our doors to the public, giving them a glimpse into the weird and wacky world of Chronicle Books.

In the spirit of seeing things differently, we ceded total creative control over this year’s Chronicle Books SFDW event to our beloved colleague, Dusty Hardcovers. Instead of hosting our usual happy hour and studio tour, Dusty and company transformed our space into Crack The Spine!, a trivia game show revealing some of the oddest and most unbelievable design anecdotes from our company’s 50-year history.

Dusty Hardcovers at SFDW

Dusty’s sharp wit and dazzling showmanship (and also the free beer from Fort Point Brewery) kept the audience laughing all night, and left them wondering—Did Chronicle really publish that many books on farts? Game winners and show participants took home goodie bags full of our favorite titles, and a few stories of their own to share.

Do you have what it takes to be a Crack The Spine! winner? Try your hand at a real game question below:


SFDW Crack the Spine

In our efforts to find new ways to create unique and inspiring books, we frequently find ourselves in unusual situations. Sometimes, however, we come across stories so strange that even we can’t believe them. One of the three outlandish stories below actually happened. Guess which one is true, and we’ll consider you an honorary winner of Crack The Spine!

Story A

In 2013, a loading issue caused the cargo ship carrying books from our printer in China to Germany to crack in half. Though the crew miraculously survived, they were unable to save the back half of the boat, which sank within 10 days. The shipping company attempted to tow the front half of the ship to its final destination, but it burst into flames and also went down. Among the containers that sank to the bottom of the Pacific, where it still awaits discovery by a future civilization, was a container that carried the full print run of the German language edition of our interactive Star Wars sound book How To Speak Wookiee.

Story B

In 2013, we partnered with a small, revolutionary Oregon printing plant to publish Green Fingers, a guide to living with a zero-carbon footprint. The printer used a new type of vegetable ink and paper made from cornhusks. Their facility was rural, and doubled as an organic vegetable farm, wastewater recycling center, and goat nursery. Just a few days after the books were released, calls started pouring in from bookstores, who claimed their books came damaged. Some had bite marks, and others had whole sections chewed out by the printer’s goats, which snuck into the bindery during the books’ production.

Story C

In 1994, we published our first Playboy book, Playboy: Extremely Nude. After being rejected for adult material by multiple manufacturers, we found a printer overseas who agreed to print the book. The proofing process went off without a hitch. But when the first shipment arrived, we found that foreign customs officials had censored the books by stamping black bars over all of the model’s “sensitive” areas. The books were ruined, the launch delayed, and we ended up moving the job to a printer in Salt Lake City.


– – –

So, which one do you think is true? Is it the floating Bibles, the nibbled Green Fingers, or the censored Playboy: Extremely Nude?


The correct answer is Story A, believe it or not. Somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean are hundreds of German-language copies of How to Speak Wookiee. You can even see photos of the cargo ship going down here!

To read more about all things design at Chronicle books, visit here.

Victoria Chao

Design Studio Manager at Chronicle Books. Dog enthusiast. Ice cream maker. You can follow her on Instagram at @victoriouschao
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