Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Sculptures

I sensed the passenger next to me taking out her Kindle before I actually saw her. Yes, wise move, I understood – this woman knew how to travel, knew how to pack a carry-on, knew where to situate her Kindle so that it was easy to reach. Settling in to her read took no time at all; figuring how to hold her “book” on her lap was no trouble; finding her place in the text would call no attention to itself.

I looked at the library book I had brought with me for the flight to North Carolina. Softbound, call number visible under tape, unidentifiable smudge on the back cover, Lost Classics opened onto pages of a familiar toughness, some dog-eared, some stained, all perfectly readable and all previously read. In my hunt for a more recent publication entitled On Rereading, I had discovered on the library shelf this 2001 volume with its playful subtitle: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission.

As the passenger at my side read cleanly and quietly through screen after disappearing screen, I paged through the seventy-four short essays. Compiled by the editors of a Canadian literary magazine called Brick, these essays were the work of authors invited fifteen years ago to recount each of them a book memory. I got to hear again and again how someone who was used to reading wrote about that experience.

What characterized most of the essays was the sense of a physical text lost – or almost lost – uncelebrated oftentimes, sometimes – it would appear – unknown by anyone beyond these seventy-four authors.

If two different reading worlds were travelling side by side – Seat 25D and Seat 25E – over the Appalachian Mountains last week, still one other book world awaited me in Asheville.

I had an appointment at the studio of a book sculptor in Grovewood Gallery.

The creativity and imagination of Daniel Essig had been familiar to me from the time I first discovered altered books and artists’ books six or seven years ago. I had purchased books with photographs of Daniel Essig’s sculptures. His were not books to be read in any conventional way, but Daniel Essig was indeed again and again creating books that call to those of us who are readers. We recognize pages, spines, covers, bindings when we see these book sculptures – we just need to stop and mull and examine what Daniel Essig is saying with them.

So there I was with the Asheville friend I was visiting and we were entering this man’s workplace, this artist’s studio. And you know what? Daniel Essig’s books did what books do – they stand, they lean, they lie on their side, they take on the shadows of a rainy afternoon, they allow themselves to be overlooked or ignored or neglected unless someone takes them off a shelf and handles them and maybe talks about them.

So we talked about books.

Yes, far from any Kindle, we talked about books in Asheville.

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