Pop Survey: Do You Write in Your Books?

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In PloughsharesBook Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Jane Buyers, Notes on Macbeth: Enter Lady Macbeth, 2004. Lithograph, etching, chine colle. 81.5 x 102 cm. Photo credit: Laura Arsie. (Via Numero Cinq, used with permission.)

Marginal notes re-purposed to create fine art: “A black rose is planted over the scrawled notes of some long ago student struggling with the text of Macbeth….The student’s handwriting is so uncertain and you feel the tremendous desire to understand. I like the anxiety and striving to grasp the meaning of the printed word.” Jane Buyers, Notes on Macbeth: Enter Lady Macbeth, 2004. Lithograph, etching, chine colle. 81.5 x 102 cm. Photo credit: Laura Arsie. (Via Numéro Cinq, used with permission. Visit NC’s site for the full interview.)

Okay, Ploughsharers, it’s time to share some of your opinions! Today we’re taking a little squiggly, ink-stained side road in our journey through book arts with a special question just for you:

Do you write in your books?

Or do you prefer to keep them pristine?

(Tell us in the comments section below!)

Readers are a passionate bunch. I did a little informal pre-survey of some of my friends and found the responses ranged from horrified gasps of “No, never!” to enthusiastic, fist-pounding  “Hells, yeahs!”

Along the way, I gathered some colorful (and sometimes methodically color-coded) stories I’d like to share with you.

A Confession

But first a confession. I’m a careful abstainer, a longtime, diehard member of the Keep It Pristine club.

A conservative approach: My copy of Don Delillo's Mao II from the mid-1990s with its tiny scrap of Post-It still sticking strong.

A conservative approach: My copy of Don DeLillo’s Mao II from the mid-1990s, its tiny shred of Post-it still sticking fast to a passage I loved.

Writing instruments never touch my reading materials. I’ll mark pages and passages with a Post-it, jotting down my thoughts, with their corresponding page numbers, in a notebook. There’s always a crisp roll of Brodart book jacket covers at the ready in my desk drawer.  I take care to use bookmarks and never dog-ear. My books are scrupulously clean.

Doesn’t sound like much of a confession, does it?

Well, here’s the thing: I’ve always somehow wished I was the kind of person who wrote in books, who was so full of spontaneous creativity, literary passion and spark that I just had to scrawl all over them. Once, as a teenager, I even tried to deliberately cultivate the habit, but my heart just wasn’t in it and the whole thing felt contrived. As I self-consciously circled and underlined and annotated, all I could think was You’re ruining that book.Continue Reading

Milk-Producing, Duck-Billed, and Venomous: The Reanimation Library

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In Ploughshares’ Book Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Andrew Beccone, proprietor of the Reanimation LIbrary

Andrew Beccone, founder of the Reanimation Library (Image: Nora Maynard)

Knife-throwing manuals. Fondue cookbooks. Air raid shelter handbooks. Guides to the care and maintenance of prehensile-tailed skinks.

They’re the kind of outdated, discarded books you might find in a dusty corner of a thrift store, or branded with a big “WITHDRAWN” stamp at your public library’s annual sale.  Dog-eared orphans of the information storm.

Andrew Beccone, a Brooklyn-based visual artist with a Masters in Library and Informational Science, sees these castoffs as treasures. Fascinated by the visual goldmine of diagrams, illustrations, and photographs these oddball books contain, he created a dedicated home for them, the Reanimation Library, offering each forgotten volume a second chance at life.

I interviewed Andrew in order to find out more about this fascinating project.

PSHARES: You once described the Reanimation Library as being a “platypus.” Please explain.

BECCONE: I use a platypus analogy because I find the library somewhat challenging to classify. I understand it as both a library and an art project, and I try to give each of these elements equal attention, but sometimes they work against each other or contradict themselves in ways that feel unwieldy or awkward. It’s an odd creature. The Wikipedia article on platypuses states that they are milk-producing, egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, and otter-footed. This seems like a pretty good description of the library to me.Continue Reading

Reading the Environment: Book Artist Melissa Jay Craig

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In Ploughshares’ Book Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Book and paper artist Melissa Jay Craig gets an earful. (Image credit: <a href="http://ziagallery.net/hughes.html"Anne Hughes, ZIA Gallery)

Book and paper artist Melissa Jay Craig gets an earful. (Image credit: Anne Hughes, ZIA Gallery)

Whether she’s rescuing and repurposing discarded mass-produced paperbacks or harvesting wild plants to make her own paper, Melissa Jay Craig’s always discovering new “reading materials” in her environment.

Working her own kind of alchemy, the award-winning, Chicago-based artist has transformed these natural and manmade materials into sculptural, book-like hybrids: delicate, leafy books that bud, blossom, and decay with the seasons; poisonous-looking “bookshrooms” delivering pointed political statements; canned paperbacks that become trash after they’re consumed; and a single, poignant volume that mirrors the artist’s own hearing loss.

I interviewed Melissa Jay Craig via email earlier this month to learn more about the methods behind her fascinating body of work.

PSHARES: Much of your artwork concerns reading: both the printed words in books and the wordless communications in nature. Are you telling us “books” are everywhere to be read?

MJC: It’s not so much that “books” are everywhere; it’s more that I want to point out that we are always “reading.”  We’re taking in, processing and responding to information everywhere, constantly.Continue Reading

Binding Community: North Branch Projects Turns Pizza Boxes into Books

Regin Igloria at North Branch Projects. (Image: Nora Maynard)

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In Ploughshares’ Book Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Frustrated by the gulf between the contemporary art world and the people he cares for most, visual artist and bookbinder Regin Igloria founded North Branch Projects in the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up, Albany Park. In this small, independently run project space, Igloria offers hand bookbinding sessions free of charge six days a week, using inexpensive, often re-purposed materials. He calls these informal gatherings “community binding.”

A refreshing departure from the usual white cube gallery space, North Branch Projects exudes a sense of youthful energy and fun. Located in a bright, airy storefront on a residential street dotted with walk-in clinics, discount clothing stores, and jobber shops, its neon welcome signs invite curious passersby to slow down and take a closer look.

Once inside, the visitor is greeted by cheery yellow walls, a large worktable, and shelves and display cases plentifully stocked with bookbinding materials and tools, as well as an impressive array of finished books. To the back of the main workspace is a collection of handmade hula hoops and a ping pong table that has seen many heated tournaments. A mirrored disco ball hangs cheekily from the ceiling above.

We interviewed Igloria via email earlier this month to get his thoughts on this remarkable ongoing project.

Continue Reading