“A home without books is a body without soul.” – Cicero
I firmly believe that there’s a little place in our brains inscribed with the message “BOOKS ARE IMPORTANT”. There’s nothing remarkable about the construction of a book, and books have taken so many forms throughout history that it’s difficult to point to any one design and say ‘that is what a book should be’. But there’s just something about them that make them more than a container for words.
Books are hard to throw away. We react viscerally to the idea of book-burnings, whether the contents are world-shaking ideologies or popular fantasy stories. Yet the idea of deleting an electronic book just doesn’t hold the same impact. When we read, we go beyond the process of scanning symbols and turning pages and become absorbed in the story itself, so why should it make a difference whether those symbols are printed in ink on wood fibres or are made up of pixels on a screen? Is it just that the physical existence of a bound codex gives it more weight in our minds – a real thing, and therefore a more material act of destruction? Or is it something more?
I think that books have entered our cultural perception as something greater than the sum of ‘words plus paper’. They can hold secrets, stories, knowledge passed down to us through time. They can be the potent symbols of religion, or the repositories of scandal. And over the century-and-a-half or so since the bound codex took over from the scroll as the popular way to store words, we’ve come to conflate books with what’s inside.
That’s why my books have nothing inside but empty pages.
Almost all of the books that I create are blank. I’ve been asked to bind written works in the past and – although I’ve done it on occasion – I always feel a little disappointed when the work is done. It’s an anti-climax; it’s over and done with. The adventure is already written, and you can dip into it at any stage. But an empty book? A sheet of paper becomes a folded signature. Glue and cord and linen thread and mull bind signatures into a text block. Board and leather and more glue and a certain amount of judicious swearing lead to a codex. And after that, who knows? A blank page is potential, limited only by the imagination of the person who writes on it.
So, when people ask me what I do, and I tell them I bind books, what I really mean is ‘I create little parcels of space for something to happen in.’
But that’s quite hard to fit on a business card.
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