The early idea I had in May, when I picked up the little volume “The Great Conversation” here and thought about making “art with books” for Loussac Library in Anchorage, faded over the summer. The idea – to replace the interior pages with an accordion-fold book by cutting out the pages – fizzled.
June and July passed with no progress, only my dogged reading of the book’s text (an introduction to an Encyclopedia Britannica series of “great books”). I kept thinking how many books were left out of their list, and also realized I couldn’t bring myself to cut pages from an (ex) library book.
By the editors’ thinking, “The Great Conversation” takes place between these books and their authors, one book or author to another. But I kept thinking of the conversations we readers have with books – inspiring, comforting, entertaining, educating dialogues.
I began to picture an altered edition of the book, maybe even illustrated and expanded. Book titles alone intrigue me, so I had a little rubber stamp made saying Title/Author. I felt quite an old-fashioned librarian, as I stamped around the book’s text in margins and under headers. Then I drew a line around the stamped words leaving space for adding titles.
I searched my old journals for titles of books I’d read and encountered quotes that seemed to belong to the project, so I glued them in. And in the best moment, the thought occurred to me that the book might be interactive – I could invite visitors to the exhibit to also add their favorites.
At first I pictured the illustrations as black and white – like an old edition of Dickens or Trollope – but instead made sketchy, faintly colored pictures of books on shelves and in the places where we find ourselves “lost in a book.” The printer of my pocket books made digital prints of the drawings, and I added them to the book.
I asked our cabinetmaker and his son (working together this summer) to make a box to hold the book. I had in mind simple, but they imagined and built a wonderful wooden box shaped like the book. The spine even though wood, seems to curve. Time grew short, I was reluctant to paint the box, but the builders insisted: ”Paint it – make it look like the book!”
So “The Great Conversation Volume I: an Altered, Illustrated, Expanded, Boxed Edition” is in Anchorage now – at the Loussac Library through the end of September. I have no idea if the notion is working – it is strange to write in a library book – but if you are an Anchorage reader please visit and add a book title.
Soon I’ll post here a little series of the illustrations and the quotes – all about our great conversations with books!