Art with Books

When my family and I moved to Alaska in 1959, the year of statehood, the Z.J. Loussac Library (then a 1955 downtown building) was a lifeline for my sister and me as out-of-place newcomers.

We migrated from the Young Adult section to the real stacks during years of checking out big piles of books and high school study afternoons at old wooden tables. Later, motherhood meant accompanying little children to story hour – followed by a treat at the nearby Woolworths, and a slow walk home with the red wagon full of books.

In 1986 Anchorage built a beautiful new building – many-leveled with comfy chairs and good light. Past story time by then, our sons’ continued trips to the library supported their new interests from schoolwork to backcountry manuals. A list of the checked-out books (a life list like birders keep) would trace our years, revealing life’s changes and inquiries.

The “new” library building is 25 years old this year, and Friends of the Library plan an exhibit of art made from books as part of the celebration. When my painter friend passed the “call for artists” on to me – I applied.

Organizers invited participating artists to select books to use, winnowed from donated and deaccessioned library books – leftovers – unwanted even at book sales. The day I visited on this trip, I chose from books in an alternate set of stacks in the basement, the “dungeon.”

I looked for a book with a title that might reflect my thinking and found a little gilt-lettered volume titled “The Great Conversation,” the first volume in a Britannica Great Books series. The relationship we have with the libraries of our lives does seem a conversation of sorts.

And now the threatened “end of the book” as paper object complicates things. On the airplane I read part of a paperback novel, but also one on my iPad. The New Yorker from last fall I carried with me has a Roz Chast illustration on the cover titled “Shelved.” It shows books with expressive faces on towering, stuffed bookshelves. They watch a fellow in a chair using headphones and a laptop.

I haven’t a clue what I will do with this little book – can I make it a library memoir of some sort? I have till August to conquer my reluctance to “alter” a book and make an offering from this unwanted volume.