Tunnel Books and Peep-Shows

I see story everywhere. A shopping bag hangs on an iron hook at my studio door. There’s a story in that bag, I’m sure of it, with its Metropolitan Museum print of a cat. Beside the bag, there hangs a pair of witch’s boots. Above that, a copy of a placard that describes the best method of identifying and executing witches. I hung them in that particular orientation because they tell a story – the witch that got away, the cat on the canvas bag, her familiar who came to her rescue when she was thrown in the river for detection. I think that particular witch, the one who owned the witch’s boots, could swim. She dove down, underwater, and came up down river. It was the longest she had ever held her breath. When she regained her strength enough to climb ashore, she tucked herself under a rotten log and her cat helped further conceal her by raking leaves over her feet, the only part of her still exposed.

That could be true. Could be. Who is to say otherwise?

So while my world may look higgeldy piggeldy, it’s actually very intentional. I’ve always been drawn to books. Mind you, I was no great reader as a child. In fact, I was a master at covering up my illiteracy until it could not be concealed. Then I learned to read. I was… maybe twelve years old? But before I could read with comprehension, I loved books for their stories that could be interpreted through their pictures. I was a master at faking it.

One of my favorite books as an illiterate child was an old encyclopedia set at my babysitter’s house. In one of the books was a layered transparency of the anatomy of a frog and another book that housed the anatomy of a man. The first transparency was of the outside of the frog, but as you peeled back the layers of transparency, you saw the frog’s musculature, then its internal organs, then its skeleton. Around the same time, I must have heard the story of the Princess and the Frog. (I’m sure I had not read it, illiterate child, that I was.) If you took the transparencies of one book (the frog) and placed them over the transparency of the other book (the man) it just did not add up that the frog might actually be a Prince, transformed by an evil curse. It did make me perhaps a little more conscientious about my treatment of the frogs I caught.

More recently, I was introduced to the world of Tunnel Books. Tunnel Books are books that have been altered from their original purpose into a story of sorts, told through the images of its pages, minus the text.

Dating back to the mid-1800s, Tunnel Books, originally called peep shows, allowed the viewer into an alternative world of wonder. There, objects and art could be repurposed to tell a different story, and no, they were not all lewd in nature. Some were historical, or fantastical. Almost all of the early ones were miniature stage sets with characters that could be moved about, like a puppet theater. Some were inside boxes or employed mirrors to distort perception of the size of the box’s interior.

Last week, I started a stop-action animation. I thought it would be filmed in the old style, one frame at a time with incremental movements, but now, I’m not sure. The animation, in many ways, limits the viewer to my interpretation. Maybe, what I was creating, is best served as a Tunnel Book, a peep-show into the world of these characters. There is a witch, a handsome realtor, and a creepy old house. Someone’s going to be turned into a frog. Well, that is, if the viewer interprets it in that way. I guess I’ll get to work on that peepshow. On another level, I guess it’s a peepshow into the way my brain works. Eww. It’s not pretty.

In the meantime, I hope you decide to make some art… and read a book! Maybe you’ll do both… with a tunnel book.

Books Uncategorized

Curating Old Friends

There was a recent discussion amongst some writer buds about the books on our shelves. The question posed was, “am I meant to have read all of those books?” The consensus was, “no.”

The secretary desk curated. Four more bookcases to go…

In my case, this is what happened:

  1. I am gifted books. A LOT of books. At workshops and conferences, one receives books in the hope of reviews. At most writing conferences they have something called a “goody room” – a room filled with books, swag, and chocolate. I tend to hit the chocolate, I might take a free pen if it’s got a rubbery grip, and I’ll carefully select a book or two – not usually more than a couple, as I am a very slow reader. Okay, I might walk out with a bag full if someone is there thrusting them at me. I try to read them, but there’s an hours to day issue, as in not enough of the first in the latter.
  2. The TBR or the “to-be-read” pile. These are books that appealed to some part of me when I foolishly walked into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I haven’t read them yet, but there is a plan to read them. These books often land in a stack on my nightstand until it begins to teeter when they are then stacked on a bookshelf until I eventually get around to putting them in order.
  3. The leftover “stock.” I may have mentioned that my family owns and used to operate an antique mall. Our parents needed help on weekends and later, full-time, so during my stint there, I kept a small room filled with used books. It was not a gamble in purchasing books for resale. I simply bought whatever I liked and that I thought I might get around to reading. When we leased the building to one of the dealers, I closed up “shop” and my entire stock of used books came home with me.
So sad to see you go… 🙁

The problem is, in my case, a real estate-to-book ratio. So this week began the process of moving bookshelves, painting, and curating the books, some of whom I consider to be old friends. I cannot possibly read all of the books on my shelves. Not enough hours in the day, weeks, months, years, but how do you choose which of your friends stay and which ones go? Here’s how:

This has become a messy madness of non-fiction!
  1. Try the Marie Kondo tidy. I tried. Everything was going great. I whittled down the clothes in my closet to a carefully chosen capsule wardrobe, and then I got to the section on “books.” That’s when I quit. How does one pare down old friends? Well, I’m trying it again this week. Bye bye, old friends. It’s not that I didn’t love you, but I want to share the love with someone else. I swear, you’re special!
  2. Donate those that just don’t have a permanent place in your heart to your local library. Maybe they just haven’t found their forever home yet.
  3.  Start a “Little Free Library.” I did that this past summer. Of course, I keep forgetting to go out there and refresh the selections… and I’m always a little bit hurt when I install a book that I have loved that no one else seems to want to read. Don’t they know it has had a life-altering impact on someone?

Then there’s the problem of how to organize those that you do decide to keep.

And the wires… and the attempt at a secret bookshelf door. Nope.
  1. Organize by color. I mean, you COULD. I wouldn’t. I won’t! (Note to my daughter – please do not re-arrange them again by color. It took two afternoons to re-alphabetize them. Okay, they did look great, but I couldn’t find anything.) The cover color often does not match the spine, or I remember it as being orange, but in reality, it’s blue with orange type.
  2. Alphabetize by category using a version of the Dewey decimal system. I have mine divided into fiction and non-fiction. All of the fiction is alphabetized by author, then title, but not by genre. All of the non-fiction is just clumped by subject matter – art, architecture, science and nature, history and biographies, crafts, building, gardening… A lot of these are going to get heavily curated. Sorry old friends. You’ve served your purpose, so now you can go into the service of someone else.

And sometimes, there is the odd book that just doesn’t make the cut. Sadly, I have a stack of books that I don’t mind turning into a craft project. And some of them get repurposed when I turn them, spine backward and use them for insulation in my office gable. Don’t judge me. Don’t judge a book by its… or maybe do.

Creepy Baby Book…

Have you ever judged a book by its cover? I absolutely have. There is power in visual communication and I admit to having been fooled by a misleading cover or two. Either that or I’ve found it was better than its cover suggested, or that it was not quite on-genre with its cover. Still, I tend to shop by cover design. Someday, maybe I will learn.

Let me know how you curate your old friends? I wonder, is anyone giving up all of their physical books in favor of e-books? I find I cannot and I regret having purchased some books in e-format and found myself wanting their company on my keeper shelves.

I’ll post an update once the shelves are moved, trimmed, painted and sorted with my freshly curated library. And in the meantime, I hope you find time to read a book, maybe curate and share a friend or two, and make some art!