virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Book as Enduring Symbol

As we watch the book transition into its fraught future, will the eventual scarcity of traditional volumes mean we can no longer recognize an image of that rectangular thing as a symbol of “learning, poise, wisdom and moral fortitude?” Or will the book as a symbol spring eternal? ~ Porter Anderson (Writer Unboxed)

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) takes on “Book as Symbol” and concludes that it is as perennial as spring. Though debating Porter is an enjoyable sport, I rarely find the opportunity, such reasoning undergirding even his lighthearted and sarcastic observations. Instead I pass along the unfathomably clever comments I appended to his post…

le bibliophile

Le Bibliophile (Credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a bibliophile by default, and a digital reader by convenience. No. Scratch that. I am a reader by default and a print book, digital book and audio book omnivore by habit. And increasingly by appetite. In fact, I often purchase and “read” a title in all three formats. Bundling anyone? After all, print books still make awfully quaint wrappers.

“If anything, I find we badly overuse the traditional book as a symbol.” ~ Porter Anderson (Writer Unboxed)

Indeed! A nostalgic eleventh hour attempt to ensure the symbol’s immortality? I’m reminded by Vaughn Roycroft’s anecdote (read Porter’s post and then scan down to Roycroft’s comment to enjoy his quirky story) of a library and garden designer I once knew who sold fancy folks learned libraries by the foot. Paneling, bookshelves, paint, leather club chairs, carpet, musty odor and collector’s edition books. Silly gobs of money for guilt tomes that might as well have been hacked spines glued into 4″ shelves.

English: Mabie Todd Swan 14k gold flexible nib

Mabie Todd Swan fountain pen (Credit: Wikipedia)

That said, the book will endure, not just as a symbol, but as a luxury. An indulgence. A preference. Many of us after all still age wines to perfection and draw ink into fountain pens despite the preponderance of cheaper, easier, more abundant and better marketed alternatives. I haven’t ever ridden in a chariot or published poems on stone tablets, but I instantly recognize both in humanity’s timeless iconography.

And what a joy it will be one day many decades anon to creak open the dusty spine of a vintage Quixote to read aloud to my grand nieces and nephews… Even with Porter’s Campari stains obscuring some of the text.

What do you think? Will the book endure as a symbol? Or perhaps it follow the slide rule and the Ford Pinto off to EFFI (the Elysian Fields of Forgotten Innovations, which incidentally, might be near Pine Point…)

Graffiti and Marginalia

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

It’s Marginalia Monday and many, many, many marginalia posts overdue for a glancing look at graffiti.

“It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. (Book Blog)

Ditto, graffiti. Evidence your nearest public restroom. Or the Lascaux caves. After all, cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yob, and the saucy rhyme next to your favorite American Standard is too! Both are simply reminders that we humans can’t resist those clean white margins. We must share our wiles or wile away time.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti and marginalia. I suspect most people do.

I remember studying Don Quixote for the first time in high school. I was cross referencing several versions of the text including a crumbly old edition from the school library. I was frustrated with the marginalia. It was a library book after all! I was almost angry to think that a previous reader had felt obliged to foul the pristine pages. Almost, but not quite. I was also fascinated. I flipped through the book reading the notes.

I have a similar reaction to graffiti, annoyed when it feels like vandalism, fascinated when it feels like a subversive art form. During my freshman or sophomore year I discovered Jasper Johns, and for the all the world his work felt to me like an extension of the graffiti I saw in New York city. Layers of visual storytelling. For a while I was fascinated with Jasper Johns and especially obsessed with Seasons. I imitated his complex collages of images and words and letters and numbers and symbols.

It took me years to realize (and then admit) that I loved marginalia. I stopped hiding the fact that I hunted through used books for the best marginalia, flipped through a book hunting for interesting asides before ever wading through the text itself. Likewise with graffiti, whether it’s a prehistoric pictograph in the New Mexico desert or a visual riff dripping down the side of a dumpster.

Now don’t take this as blanket praise for graffiti. Or marginalia. If you spray paint my car or contribute your clever flipbook animation to my vintage collection of Casanova’s memoirs, I’ll hunt you down and tattoo my least successful poems across your forehead. You’ve been warned. But, if the world is your text and you can’t resist the temptation to illuminate the text with clever, beautiful or otherwise irresistible marginalia/graffiti I’ll probably stop to appreciate your work…

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