Where are your books?
Just like the Stockholm conception, these images create kinesis in my imagination. I grew up surrounded by books — literally, surrounded by books, in bookshelves that lined every available wall, chock full of every available kind of book. Those books and the mysteries that were locked inside were a big reason that I wanted to write. If I could just make a book that can sit in line with all the other, that could someday surprise an anonymous reader who ad picked it down from the shelf for no certain reason…that would be such a cool thing!
At difficult and uncertain times I would retreat to the cocoon of book-filled structures: deep inside the stacks of the university library, then later tucked inside whatever small cave I’d partitioned off from my apartment. In one apartment over a garage, I’d created a little workroom in the eaves, accessible only by a pull-down ladder, sweltering hot in the summer, frigid in the winter, but private and personal.
I don’t know what all those books did. Perhaps they made me feel less trapped by whatever uncertain, unresolved question of self, purpose and identity made me want to at once run from my mind and burrow deeper into it.
My workroom now has books. They are winnowed down. I have paper, but less of it. I read and write regularly. The bookshelves are simple. They are keeping books that I have decided are important to have in hard copies. They are books that I want to introduce my kids to. Books that I have made notes in. Books that move me. Books that have explained someone important, that have helped me center a view of the world that let’s me feel more accepting of the beauty of uncertainty.
Two things I wonder when I look at these books, and look at the images of other bookshelves.
First, is the bookshelf becoming an artifact? Is it like a museum case that keeps things that are rare and beautiful safe? Have we shifted the meaning of the printed book as we’ve moved into the digital universe?
[One note: I’m not a purist here. I love books. I derive meaning and identity from reading. I love to write. But above all I believe in the broad and democratic distribution of art and information. The Internet creates a greater opportunity for mankind to share, elicit, crate and understand than we can possibly express. ]
Second, what is form? Not too long ago, the definition of form was clearly expressed by the physical outcome: a novel, a short story, a book of poems, an album. Today, what form does one write to? And how do you create images and impressions that allow you to feel like you’ve expressed yourself and shared that expression with others?
When I ask, Where are your books, I am asking two questions. The literal one points you to your storage. The abstract one asks, When you create, what do you create to? How do you decide what the beginning and the end is? How do you make something that has form and can be composed, considered, made as precise and clear as you want, so that you have a moment of clarity?