“Bring your favourite book.”
Those two little words. Favourite Book. Every self-confessed book nerd’s worst nightmare. How do I pick just one? Having been asked this question numerous (at least one hundred) times and never coming up with one solid answer, I was not looking forward to hunting mine down for class. However, here the instructions were very different.
“Please note: not your favourite text, but your favourite book-as-object.”
A book as an object? Looking at my bookshelf I consciously noticed every spine, hardback cover and illustration like never before. I was judging my books on their aesthetics, over their text. But could I really just pick a book based on what it looked like? I decided my favourite book-as-object should be one that not only looks nice, but that means something to me. My first thought was to grab my sacred Harry Potters that had begun as tattered charity shop purchases, only to turn into perfect editions that I had queued for -much to my Mum’s distaste.
Finally, I decided upon a book from my Great-great Auntie, ‘The Tale of Beatrix Potter: A biography.’ As a child, I had read the tales of Peter Rabbit over and over again, so this gift had been particularly special. The book itself was full of photographs and letters from Beatrix herself. The pages are not quite smooth, but instead, have a hardening texture and are yellowing. But to me, this is where the appeal lies. The vintage look of the book is personally aesthetically pleasing and I enjoy the different textures of the letters and photographs. Having been produced in 1948 and now handed down to me, it had a warm sentimental feeling of my childhood and family attached to it.
Before this task, I had always counted myself as a text-snob. Someone who didn’t look at the cover, binding, texture or pages. However, it is evident that perhaps separating the text and the book is not always possible. (I’m talking particularly about those of us who are hard- or paperback snobs.) I quickly became aware that I did judge books as objects, looking at the cover before reading the blurb.
Visiting the Special Collections section in the McClay library only enhanced these thoughts further. Never before had I thought so much about the process of how the book was made, or the fact there was are so many types. Between actual vellum or leaves being stitched together, to books that had spikes and locked covers, I was in a whole new library I had never discovered. Observing a first edition Ulysses that costs just over my university tuition was mind blowing, whilst viewing the perfect gold leaf spine proved its value. Books were and are something that are made to perfection. Each has its own goal on how it wants to be presented and some even reflect their story through this.
Deciding now that books are more than just a piece of text thrown inside a glossy cover, I am excited and challenged by my own opportunity of getting to create my own book. My own chance to recreate a Shakespeare anthology, a J.D.Salinger text or a metafiction like Atonement are just some of the ideas that have crossed my mind. Even the idea of recreating a musical on leaves similar to that of the piece found in Special Collections.
Who knows where this project will lead?