A Book is a Book is a Pirate Chest

Treasure Island,
by the Edinburgh book sculptor

I learned about the Edinburgh mystery book artist a year or so ago. I love that no one knows who she is, other than she is a she and that she loves books and libraries. I love her work, too. She has a gift for transforming books into works of visual art and turning the story into a sculpture. She reminds me of the mystery visitor, the Poe Toaster, that used to visit Poe’s grave in Baltimore and leave roses and a bottle of cognac on Poe’s birthday.

It’s amazing what artists can do with a book that, to librarians and readers, is past its useful life. As a librarian, I have few qualms about removing books from the library when they have no place in the collection any more. I try to place them in new libraries, or send them off to the next stage in their lives–though this is not always possible. It pleases me that artist can turn a book into something new.

By Cara Barer

But I always get a twinge of conscience when I see books cut or otherwise transformed into something that’s not a readable book. I can see the beauty, of course, but that twinge I get makes the experience of these artworks a decidedly mixed experience. It’s hard to understand what’s driving this feeling, other than to say its related to the feeling I get when I learn about the destruction or burning of books.

About a year ago, I watched the movie version of Inkheart with my sister and her kids. There’s a scene where books are burned and my sister and I just started cringing. When the kids asked us why we were so emotional about burning books, all we could say is that it’s because to destroy a book is beyond the pale. Burning a book is like trying to kill an idea.

I don’t want to compare this kind of art to that, of course, because it’s not the same thing at all. But the notion of book as the home of an idea and a book as an inert, mass produced object are tangled together and hard to separate. But when I look at these works of art, I have to wonder where the book’s idea goes.

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