I’ve been breaking up books again. This time though, it was a tough decision to follow through on. A risk. Totally out of my comfort zone in fact. “Take risks with your own aesthetics”, is pinned as a note-to-self on my studio wall.
This book is not just any old book – it’s an 1872 edition,of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, one of my favourite stories, complete with Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations. An antique book. A “collector’s item”, which has perceived value beyond it’s content. The paper it’s printed on is thick and smooth, a soft creamy colour. The pages have age spots (or foxing) and gilt edging. Every word and letter in the story has been crafted by letterpress. There’s a delicate sliver of tissue protecting the title page, and each subsequent chapter begins on a facing page. It’s very special. But it was, in fact, literally falling apart at the seams.
I also have a 1990’s edition of Alice, but that came in a mass-produced edition of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, not even in its own individual book and printed on chemically-white cheap paper. The chapters run immediately one af ter the other to save space on the pages, so there are no real pauses or breathing spaces. The illustrations are Tenniel’s, but they’ve been rendered flat, losing many of the subtleties of the originals.
The contrast between these two printed versions of the same story is marked. The experience of reading them – is it the same? Well, once you get lost or absorbed in the story, maybe not, but actually I really think it is different.
So, as I carefully separate the binding and attempt to preserve both the stitching and some of the history of what went into making the original 1872 edition, I wonder what I can do with these pages to construct a new reading, but still a wonderful experience of a magical book. And then I don’t feel so much fear about intervening with or even ‘destroying’ such a precious historical object.