Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I deal in books, ink is in my veins

I deal in books.

Hundreds, no thousands – no, tens of thousands have past through my hands in this life so far. As a kid, I would ride down a staircase on our family Encyclopedias. In Junior High, for a year, I was a library assistant. I grew a library in my room at home, then as I moved from apartment to apartment across the country that library would grow and shrink, as though moving with the tides of being American, and living on the run.

Later still I tore hardbound books apart, pulping the contents and tossing the covers into a cardbound crusher while working at a recycling center. It felt like tearing the heads of live animals. In some ways, it was even worse.

I also am a writer, a publisher, a collage artist and book artist which generally means that I alter existing books or reconfigure text and make new books – I have been involved in the life cycle of books needing only to buy a share of stock in a forestry company to produces timber to be made into paper, and then to invest in at least one machine which pulps ruined books and material on the other end, leading to recycled paper and yet another life.

I have collected books, sold them online, found them in odd and ordinary locations and donated them to libraries. I have, so I am told, scribbled in them – cut them apart – underlined them, highlighted them and written marginalia in some. Both as a child and currently.

I smell them. One can detect the books that lingered in used bookstores or attics or were housed in rooms where people smoked.

There is nothing more exciting than finding not only a rare book but a book that had been owned by a famous person, with notes by that person in the book. Perhaps none of this is unique in and of itself; after all there are bookstore owners and scouts, and collectors and hobbyists, and dealers and printers, and artists and sculptors who use books in any manner of appearance and reason. But often these individuals are keenly interested in on aspect of books above others. Whereas, I am interested in all of it.

The dimensions of a book printed by a long forgotten company of a novel by an author who only had two books out, and none are in print any longer, and the cover was letter pressed and the cover artist is now famous for his magazine work – or as in the case of ( Frank Cugat who did original cover of Great Gatsby) did only that one cover.

And paper, of course one needs to know about paper. Thickness, how the pages have yellowed or browned or been splotched with coffee or used to calculate a math problem, or anything – no, everything. Everything one can imagine has been done with them; the book, the binding, the cover, the pages, the spine, the gutters, the margins; the works.

Bookstores seen as communist fronts, as bedlams of corruption, or promoters of revolutions. Writers as wizards of language or demons using ink. Leading throughout human history to the eventual and periodic burning of books, or humans, or both since ideas are powerful and books tend to contain mass quantities of ideas.

“The Mason Room was peaceful, as it always is at midnight. In a few
minutes I heard the books’ voices: a low, steady, unsuppressible hum.
I’d heard it many time before. I’ve always had a finely tuned ear for
a library’s accumulations of echo and desire. Libraries are anything
but hushed”.
The Archivist
Martha Cooley

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