Are Books Sacred Objects or Just Pulp Fiction?

Reblogged from Anita M. King – Writing Window:

Book lovers — or at least some of them — are up in arms over a DIY craft video that uses books as a crafting material (thanks to @ShelfBuzz on Twitter for bringing this to my attention). In the video, Lauren Conrad demonstrates how to cut off the bindings of books to decorate a storage box, essentially disguising the box as a shelf of books.

Read more… 760 more words

I came across this post by Anita King of Writing Window and I had to share it with you (above).

I have books. Tons of them. Lining the walls of my home office, piled on the floor next to my bed, stacked on the floor and in a basket in the bathroom, in a magazine holder and on the table in the living room, on the dining room table, in boxes in the basement…it doesn’t end. Two years ago, I invested in a Kindle solely for the purpose of reading books and have loved it. If I had the physical book for every book I’ve bought on my Kindle, I’d have to rent a storage unit.  BUT that doesn’t mean I have lost the appreciation and reverence of holding an actual book. The smell of the pulp, the gleam of the ink, the intriguing covers. They still matter to me, but it’s not inherent that I have them, when I’m more concerned about the words contained within.

But could I physically destroy and re-purpose a book for art?

Being an artist myself, I’m reminded of the works of Warhol, Duchamp, and others taking “found objects” and pop culture icons and re-purposing them into works of art, most times tongue-in-cheek. Instead of destroying something, it is elevated into a new idea, a new concept, that opens the mind to things previously un-thought of.

The artist must imaginatively assemble ordinarily unrelated objects or experiences. They must help us look the second time, to explore beneath the surface of ordinary experience. Imagination penetrates ordinariness and things taken for granted. It carries us to the boundaries of what we normally see and inspires us to move beyond the confined commonplace.

If that means desecrating books in order to further the world’s conscience, or even just your own, then by all means, destroy the book. It’s not the physical books themselves that are sacred, but the thoughts and ideology contained within.

Even as our lives become ever more digitalized, the beauty of the printed page continues to hold sway. Take Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent literary dissection of Bruno Schultz’s novel The Street of Crocodiles, which he painstakingly pruned in order to create an entirely new story. Although the concept was more literary experiment than arts and crafts hack-job, the resulting book is a visually stunning reinvention of its preexisting form. To illustrate the multimedia value of this alternative usage, here are ten artists who have transformed traditional texts into works of genuine art.

On the other hand, Kathryn Hughes on Books Blog finds she can’t bear to throw away any book, no matter how bad the prose is or the state of the physical book.

The reason for this self-defeating attitude is, I think, something to do with being brought up to believe that books were almost sacred objects. My parents, who had been children in the second world war, filled my head with stories of how difficult it had been to get new reading material when they were young and so, by extension, what a lucky little girl I was to grow up in the age of the cheap paperback. Later, in school, I heard about how various authoritarian regimes – anything from the Catholic church to Stalinist Russia – had banned books as a way of controlling dissident forces. Later still, as a post-graduate studying the Victorian Age, I learned how the arrival of cheap books in the 1840s had propelled whole swaths of the British population towards self-education and political emancipation.

So to me, books – even bad ones – still equal freedom, knowledge and beauty. And to throw even one of them away seems to me like a crime against humanity.

Thomas Moore likens holding and reading an actual book (compared to an e-reader) to spirituality and a library being the chapel.

In our modern way of thinking, we believe we can separate the contents of a book from the material it’s written on and bound with. We think of a book as information. But anyone who loves books knows that the book is what you hold in your hand and put on a shelf. A library honors a book and easily turns into a sacred place, not too far distant from the sanctuary where I held the big red book against my little head.

When I sign a book — a ritual in itself that I take seriously, almost in a priestly manner — people sometimes tell me that they haven’t read it yet. I always say, “It doesn’t have to be read to be a book. Just keep it in a special place and look at it from time to time.” People know what I mean. I have many books I’ve never read and have no intention of reading. But I keep them enshrined on my home library shelf and would miss them dearly if they disappeared.

For me, a library is a kind of chapel. Spiritual traditions are not as abstract as people think. They are not all about creeds and beliefs. They are concrete, physical, tangible and sensual. There was nothing abstract about that moment in my memory holding the heavy book painfully against my skin as I held it stiff and formal. A library is not an information center, it’s a chapel for books. Your home library, as small as it might be, is also a chapel made sacred by the book itself.

What does this mean when it comes to “re-purposing” books or pieces of books as the materials for a craft project or piece of visual artwork? Is it okay to destroy something beautiful in order to make something beautiful? Or is a book something too sacred to touch for any other purpose but reading?

3 thoughts on “Are Books Sacred Objects or Just Pulp Fiction?

  1. Kat, As always, fantastic blog. I for one would rather my books be repurposed as art than end up in the trash. Remember my words, my characters, the emotions my stories evoke and, if there is no more room on the shelf or the pages have torn and curled, turn the physical book into something beautiful.

    Like

    1. Me, too. Although there are many people who argue harshly against that idea and believe that books have a sacred value and to destroy them is heresy.

      Like

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