In an attempt to expand my students’ thinking about books and writing, every Monday (so far there have been only three) I bring in a book which pushes the notion and structure of what is a book. We spend a short bit of time discussing the attributes of the “Show and Tell” and how it stretches our ideas about what a book is. I have a personal collection of such books and I enjoy sharing these discoveries.
Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1: Published in 1963, this book is a stack of 149 pages that a reader can shuffle in any order and then read. Since the sixties, this notion has found itself in some children’s books where you can read chapters in different orders. However Sapporta’s original approach remains baffling yet intriguing, surprising and actually works. Brilliantly conceived, the publishing house Visual Editions, has just republished this work with a new introduction and packaging.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes: This is a remarkable book where Foer has excised words from his favorite book, Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, only one of two books still in existence by this author. Schulz’s other works were totally destroyed in World War II. The haunting nature of the missing text, yet the new meaning rising out of the excised version is poignant and mystical and the whole process of reading what is left for us somehow becomes a sacred and esoteric act.
The Journey is the Destination–The Journals of Dan Eldon: Dan Eldon was a young war photographer for Reuters who got caught up in the turmoil in Somalia in the early 1990s. Eldon and two other journalists ran to cover the UN bombing of a house that was believed to be the compound of General Aidid, who challenged the presence of UN and US troops in Somalia in 1993. The local citizens were appalled at the carnage and stoned Eldon and the other two journalists as a protest for the bombing. The difficult and pathetic irony is that the three of them were there to expose this bombing and were on the side of the protesters. This book is the last journal of Dan Eldon, filled with drawings, photographs, collage, musings, memoir, pockets, fold-outs. It’s really an amazing glimpse inside the head and heart of an incredibly creative, imaginative, activist, and profound young man.
Of course for each book I share, I have the students put down the bibliographic information in MLA format in their own journals. Underneath I have them describe the book they have seen and add a statement or two about their personal response to it. (In this way, when we get to Annotated Works Cited lists during our research project, I won’t have to teach it. They will already know the drill.)
Future books on my list are:
- Anne Carson’s Nox
- Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout
- The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
- Artwork of Brian Dettmer
- Some of McSweeney’s various published formats
And, if any of you blog readers have any suggestions, I would be most grateful. The idea is that these books should somehow push the notion of what makes a book a book, that the structure and format, perhaps even content, of these books should somehow be unique and push boundaries of bookmaking and writing.
…There’s a small piece of me that is fully expecting excised research papers this spring…