Books About Books

Over the past couple of years I've become a little fanatical about collecting books about making books. Since I've always been pretty energetic about adding to my personal library, this new interest isn't a departure from usual behavior; it's just a new category. I'm an equal opportunity buyer: I frequent the local independent bookstore, the big chain bookseller, and the online purveyor, along with bookstores in any town I travel to, and, in a pinch, the airport storefront.

To kick off the year, I've decided to systematically start making prototypes of the books that catch my eye in these publications. A lifelong project, I expect. For the past couple of weeks, I've been looking through book artist Alisa Golden's publications on creating handmade books. In her first, Creating Handmade Books (1998/2000), she relates that she always thought she'd have to choose between writing and art, both of which she loved. Then in college she discovered that she could merge words and images and make books. She goes on to describe what it's like for her as she writes this book, fifteen years after she created her first book:
"I don't think of merging writing and art anymore; I think: 'book,' and an organic, whole piece evolves. I think about the reader who will interact with my book. I think about how the pace sets a tone: how one page leads to another, briskly, with physical movement, or slowly and thoughtfully. The writing, the art, the paper and structure each add a layer to the book to create a mood or clarify a meaning. Sometimes what I thought I was making turns into something else, something 'the book wanted.'"
I'd like to think that eventually I'll start hearing "what the book wants."

Golden's other books are Unique Handmade Books (2001/2003) and Expressive Handmade Books (2006). The instructions in the first book are less clear than those in the subsequent ones, but all three are worth adding to a collection, particularly since she writes about book forms in the context of the book content.


New Beginnings

I've been looking forward to being an Ashevillian for many years -- since the '80s -- and finally managed to get myself here via a combination of wish fulfillment and fortunate circumstance. Two-and-a-half years ago, I took my first book arts class, with Joyce Sievers at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and immediately fell in love with the craft of bookmaking and with the art of artists' books.

We have a wonderful books arts learning center in Asheville, BookWorks, that offers workshops, artist studio space and artist-group meeting space. This and individual teachers I've met in the area have introduced me to a talented community of artists whose interests intersect in the combination of art and the book. It's becoming impossible to separate what I'm learning formally through organized classes and informally from conversations with others who share this same passion.

I don't think it's surprising that someone who loves the written word as much as I do, and the feel of a book in my hand, would gravitate to book arts and to artists' books as an art form. The more I explore, the more astonished I am by the history and by the phenomenal work of artists in the field. How could I not have been aware of all this?