I grew up in a house full of books. When my father died twenty years ago (my mother having preceded him by four years), those books came to me. I kept many of them for sentimental reasons, donated some to the local VA hospital (Daddy was a vet), gave what was left to Goodwill.
They were old, you see. Out of date, in some cases no longer useful, and in all cases not really valuable. With the move to digital publishing, this will be happening more and more. (Although not, it should be noted, at my house.) Encyclopedia Britannica’s final print edition was in 2010; in March 2012 the company announced it would focus solely on its online version.
So … what happens to these old books? You might well ask.
My clever, artistic niece recently made a sculpture using an old dictionary picked up in a junk shop, paper trees, and wildly colored birds and butterflies perched in the branches. The dictionary was open to the entry for “spring”; the trees were perched atop the page. It was lovely, and it reminded me of other sculptures I’ve seen made from old books …
More than a year ago, a wonderful, bookish mystery began to unfold in Edinburgh, Scotland—beautiful paper sculptures, each involving books and the literary world, including Scottish writer Ian Rankin—began to appear anonymously around town … at the Scottish Poetry Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Edinburgh Filmhouse, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, the Central Lending Library, National Museums Scotland, and the Writer’s Museum.
The sculptures are so detailed, so intricate, so artistic, you simply must follow the link above to have a look. The artist, believed to be a woman, has yet to be identified—most of the folks involved don’t want to know. They actually like the mystery of it.
Interestingly, this woman is not the only artist working with old books. Sure, there’s the gal on Etsy selling purses made from old book covers, but that’s not what I mean.
I’m talking about folks who deal in what they’re calling “altered books.” Take Brian Dettmer, who uses dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and other books (“antiquated media,” he calls them), selectively exposing the contents without adding or moving it. (Click on the years to see the art.)
Alexander Korzer-Robinson cuts out the illustrations from Victorian novels and history books and pieces them together to create whimsical collages. Click on Book Objects Gallery to see his books—they’re magic.
The work of Guy Laramee seems deceptively simple, compared to Dettmer and Korzer-Robinson … but look again. Look at the Great Wall section, or Biblios. It’s astonishing and lovely, although his artist statement says his works represent the degradation of human culture. Book lover that I am, I won’t argue with him, though some say what’s important about a book is the content, not the format. (That’s a whole ’nother post, kids.)
There are more artistic books here. Honestly, I can’t get enough of it. This isn’t a book, actually, but it looks like one and it’s lovely.
Me, I love used books for what they are. It would never occur to me to call them antiquated media. They have character. I like having them around: I’m not done with a book after one read, because I like to lend it, talk about it, reread it. And when I want to give an out-of-print gift, the used bookshop is where I head (often abebooks.com). (They’re usually less expensive, too—a double bonus.) My artistic efforts with books thus far consist of artful arrangements of them on my bookshelves, but I wouldn’t mind being creative with one. How about you?
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