Becoming a Book

Berlin booksI love books. Reading them, of course, but also making them. It’s one of the chief pleasures of editing – being a part of that process, watching a book becoming. Because there’s something more to it than just an assemblage of paper and ink. Even in these desktop-printing days, there’s some level of specialness that sets books aside from reports or essays.

So when does a book become that special, almost sacred object, as opposed to a manuscript, or proof copy, or piece of rubbish, or something to turn into an object of art? Where are the boundaries? Or, to rephrase it in icepick mode, at what point would it be ok to destroy one?

(There’s even a name for the act of book destruction – “biblioclasm”. Burning books, for example, is a powerful – and usually political – statement. Both Jews and Sikhs dispose of damaged copies of their holy texts as they would a human corpse – by burial and cremation respectively.)

I suppose everyone has their own ok/not ok line for such things. For me, even craft projects that involve books being damaged (like hollowing out a book to make a secret compartment; or make a book lampshade; or turn old encyclopedias into bookshelves) make me uncomfortable! (I can see that it’s a sensible, even poetic fate for an old, out of date reference book to become a bookcase. But even so … )

From James Norcliffe’s poem, “cat/dog” (A Kind of Kingdom, Victoria University Press; 1998).

2 Replies to “Becoming a Book”

  1. I think Alan Loney has a essay on book destruction in the works – I’m not sure if it’s a conference paper or is going to be published or whatnot, but it’s sure to be interesting. If anyone knows the Book, it’s him.

    The altering of texts within books is something I find facinating – the two most well known examples being Tom Phillips’ A Humument, working from WH Mallock’s long forgotten Victorian novel “A Human Document”; and Ronald Johnson’s RADI OS, similarly treating a late 19th century edition of Paradise Lost.

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