or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book of Love

As soon as I saw this BoingBoing article about an artist who makes gorgeous 3-D text and images by folding the pages of disused books, I knew what the comments were going to be like: "OMG he destroys books how can he books are precious and magical aaargh!" And there were fewer of these comments than I expected, but there were a couple.

I love books. Crazy about 'em. Own way too many. Heaven must be an infinite library and all that. But the fact is that most of the books in the world are not particularly valuable. Sturgeon's law, as always, obtains: ninety per cent of everything is crap, and that includes books. If a publishing house has released fifty thousand copies of a pop star's hastily ghostwritten biography, I think we can all agree that that's at least forty thousand copies too many, and why might not some of them be ennobled by being turned into art?

Books are a fetish item for some people, who (not completely irrationally) fear censorship and book-burning and the like: but with a few exceptions, mostly books that have come to us through the ages and are as valuable and irreplaceable as paintings and sculptures, books in themselves are not precious--it is the ideas they contain, surely. If I want to scour my local used-book store for tedious histories and worthless science-fiction novels and boring corporate picture-books, books that nobody wants, and turn those into something like art, something greater than they were, why might I not do so with a clear conscience?

You don't have to damage books in any way to turn them into an artwork, of course: artist Chris Cobb rearranged the entire contents of a bookstore to turn it into this:

Anyway, the artist whose work is depicted at the top, Isaac Salazar, doesn't destroy the books, just folds their pages. As far as I can tell, they're still intact and readable, if you trouble yourself to unfold all the pages--thereby, I suppose, destroying the work of art into which the book has been made, and if you do so, who has committed the greater crime?

These artists, though. They really wreck the books that form the foundation of their art. I love so many of these pieces, and not once did I cringe at the horror that was inflicted upon the books. They're better off now.


The word "book" is, if you know even a little bit of German, obviously related to or descended from "Buch", with the same meaning; but did that word just sort of spring up out of nowhere (as words sometimes do), or does it have an ancestor?

It does indeed. The German word for the beech tree is "Buche", and "Buch" evidently once referred to a beechwood tablet onto which words were carved. The sense of a set of pages or documents bound together between covers is newer: in Old English, "boc" meant any kind of written document.

Fascinatingly, the French word for "log" is "bûche", and this is not descended from "Buche", but instead from "bois", "wood".


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