A Scrapbook? An Altered Book? A Work Book? Outsider Art? Something Else?

One trait that unites book people (bibliographers, typographers, librarians, book conservators, graphic designers, collectors, book historians, printers, booksellers, curators, papermakers, bookbinders, etc…) is an emphasis on using an accurate terminology when describing aspects of the material book. The problem is that these sects have developed their own distinct usage, which sometimes overlap, and sometimes don’t. For example, the term “text block” means something entirely different to bookbinders and printers.

Booksellers and bibliographers often refer to Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors. Conservators are largely adopting the Language of Bindings from Ligatus, which is supposed to be available as a book from Oak Knoll soon. Binders usually use the lingo of the workshop where they learned the craft from. Printed resources include Etherington’s Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books and Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book.

Most of us learn our terminology haphazardly. Considered historically, prescriptive attempts at linguistic change often fail, even if what they propose is more rational or accurate. Given improvements in text searching, and the ease of taking and disseminating digital images, I wonder if the need to use a strict terminology is as important as it once was.

Top Edge. B.F. Tefft, Webster and his Master-Pieces. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. My Collection.

That said, I recently purchased a book that does not fit neatly into any existing descriptive framework that I’m familiar with. The distortions on the top edge of the book caught my attention when I looked at it in the store. Then I noticed the extremely crude backing, making it a useful “how-not-to” example when teaching. Many sections have two reverse folds! Then again, these reverse folds may have helped lock the sections into place, given the typical detaching of the spine linings: note the pages are not falling out at the foreedge. The binding itself is in good shape considering wear, even with an additional quarter inch or so of added material. The case binding structure is quite adaptable to different text block thicknesses.

But the real reason I bought it was for the neatly glued in newspaper clippings of quilt patterns on the first twenty-four consecutive recto leaves. As in the example below, they typically completely cover the entire text block. The high quality of the text paper has helped buffer the newsprint, preserving it, though at the expense of the host: note the extensive staining on page 92, again quite typical.

 

Typical layout of four patterns per page. B.F. Tefft, Webster and his Master-Pieces. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. My Collection.

It is not unusual for books to become repositories for all sorts of things: plants, leaves, receipts, scribbled notations, and the occasional hair-on mouse skin. I’m guessing the quilt patterns were added in the early 20th century. The additions cover and obscure the original text.

What to call it?  Gary Frost, I think, would consider this in his broad rubric as an “intervention”. While it is certainly an altered book, I don’t think it has the artistic connotation that the phrase usually implies.  It is not really a commonplace book, or an artist’s book. It is not extra-illustrated. It is more than a scrapbook, since the additions change the original book into something else.

Originally the book was about Daniel Webster, who created the first American dictionary, and a dictionary documents the recorded usage of words. This particular copy was altered in a way that obliterates the text in order to become a reference for quilting. Even through there is some text on the quilting patterns, images dominate. Likely unintentionally, this book is a physical manifestation of the conflict between text and craft, the book learning verses practical activities, the head and the hand. How are books used? More than reading, it seems.

*****

While rereading this post, and looking through the book again, I noticed at least 22 pages near the end with pressed plants. Most seem to be intentionally arranged, resembling marginalia. or in this case the title page of the Doves Bible. Hmmm.

One of over 22 pressed plants. B.F. Tefft, Webster and his Master-Pieces. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. My Collection.

Tearing Up Books

A client of mine, who is a rare book dealer, pulled a paperback out of his coat pocket.  It had the covers torn off and a number of pages removed. Slightly puzzled, and before I could start my “This is going to be very expensive” speech, he explained.

“When I’m finished reading a page, I tear it off and throw it away.  The book is much lighter and easier to carry.  I just do it with worthless paperbacks. Look, it is already half the size!”

I doubt any of us would have a problem with discarding an unwanted section of a newspaper.  Or a notebook page.

But a book! Symbol of permanence, order, fixed sequence and immutable fact. His action was as strong of a comment on the nature of books as many destructive and altered artist books I’ve seen. Or is it a manifestation of our single use, disposable, throw-away culture?

I couldn’t do this to a book. Could you?

 

 

Virtual Reality in the Library

When I first read about the Alberto Manguel/ Robert Lepage collaboration “La bibliotheque, la nuit” at Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec, in Montreal, Canada, it sounded nuts.  A virtual reality exhibition of the interiors of libraries?  Even for someone deeply involved with books, this sounded like a real bore. And it seemed desperate, libraries trying to reinvent themselves as entertainment? But I was curious enough to check it out.

Once I experienced the exhibition, I was floored.  Ten libraries from around the world were virtually presented, with a short 2-3 minute narrative describing them. Paper-based books formed the background to many of the scenes and there was a constant subtext alluding to their importance.  Overall, it was an oddly reflective and poetic. When experiencing a library, you were generally located in the center of a reading room, and could look in every direction. The Oculus Rift VR simulators were very impressive. The experience felt so real it was disconcerting to look down and not see my own body in the virtual space.

If one of the goals of this exhibition was to establish libraries as a third space, I left doubtful. But I can imagine some kind of “stack view” using virtual reality to help visually find books of interest on the shelves, which would be incredibly useful to those of us researching bindings (except for all the books in boxes…). Or, much like books are now digitized, will libraries themselves be “preserved” using virtual reality in the future, and this will be how we remember and experience this once culturally powerful dinosaur?

If you are attending the joint 2017 AIC/CAC Conference this May in Montreal, this exhibition will still be on. It is within walking distance of the conference site, reservations required.

 

library
You enter the exhibition through a reproduction of Manguel’s personal library. A gentle rains falls outside the stone framed windows. My Photo.