I had the best day today: running around with Erin and Katie in search of more book sculptures, being toured around the archives of the Map Library looking at all that our family has left as its cartographic legacy. Multiple times, being told: there is nothing quite like this in the whole world. This isn’t boasting. It’s just a statement of fact. The archive holds tens of thousands of letters. Wage books from the 1880’s. Piles and piles and shelves and shelves of maps. I saw a letter written by J.M. Barrie to my great-grandfather. Just to see the name “Bartholomew” in J.M. Barrie’s writing was a revelation. I almost cried.
A few times, in the midst of being so grateful to Karla for shepherding us around, I thought: why am I not doing this? Why am I not a professional researcher? What would I research? Poetry? Correspondence? Handwriting? I know the PhD is a kind of professional researcher, but what will I do past this? And – the (gulp) big question – am I even doing it justice the way I am doing it now? The answer is mainly, and truthfully, no.
At dinner, I spoke about how I missed working at a library. There’s a social element: greeting every new person’s queries as a curious collection of mysteries to be solved, and if not solved then brightened. Illuminated. I used to love working at the Circulation Desk and telling someone wait one minute, I’ll go get Jen for you, and Jen would come out from the reference librarian offices, with a huge smile on her face, eager and ready to greet whatever questions came her way. It was also very private. Librarians spend a lot of time on their own, with their faces in books. These days, it can be computers, but I would accept that too.
I just think: I could teach. I could research. I could sift through papers and books. I could read. I could help you read. I could search. I could help you search. I could write. I could help you write. I can do all of these things, but I need a job that evolves and changes along with me. The bookshop obviously wasn’t enough. I wonder what that job will ultimately be for me. I don’t know yet, but I want it bright.
I bought a new book today (shocker, I know):
I Wonder by Marian Bantjes — “In Stefan Sagmeister’s telling words, Bantjes’s work is his ‘favorite example of beauty facilitating the communication of meaning.'”
A sneak preview, before I’ve even started reading it:
The point of many of the things I write is simply to look at things differently and be able to extrapolate from one thing to the next. I can go to an observatory, and write about my visit to the observatory; or I can get side-tracked and write about a jewelry display I saw there… or, I can merge the two and write about something else altogether. It’s the imaginative leap itself that would, I hope, serve as the lesson. And again its in the leap that some of my other, slightly absurd proposals and observations that I hope you find value. rather than laying down prescriptions, I’m trying to offer pathways in the way of viewing the world, and in taking lessons from the things we experience and turning them to new potential. I do this both with the premise and the presentation.
I am undeniably playful, and it’s my intent that this book and these writings will be taken with that in mind, and at the same time worm their way into your consciousness. I don’t know what makes me see the world the way I see it, but here it is; I want you to see it too.
I finished reading Hippolyte’s Island, by Barbara Hodgson last night. It’s an illustrated novel (not quite a graphic novel, because the pictures are wider-spread than that. Mostly text) about a man voyaging to what seem to be fictional islands, then coming back and trying to sell his account to a non-believing publisher. I have really enjoyed it, but had to stop reading it last year about 30 pages from the end because I was having very vivid dreams about being stranded on imaginary islands with the water rising, trying to paddle away in a refrigerator. I finished the last few pages before bed, and thought: I love these books.
You know the books. The illustrated books. The books that come alive visually as well as literally. I first found Barbara Hodgson through The Tattooed Map, which is a stunning read. I love Griffin and Sabine. I know you haven’t fully met T.S. yet, of the Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, but he will steal your heart. It may seem like I’m listing books for our reading list, and while — in a way — I am, I’m really trying to make sense of this. Where are the other books, the sister books, the kindred spirits of these books. Why do I love them so much? I think there is a certain crafting that goes into them, a comparable heart to each of them. If we really explored and research and dug deep, I think we could find interwoven threads. I count The History of Love and The Book Thief on this list too, even though their illustrations are more conceptual, more concentrated — they are still part of the core of what makes the work hit home. And also Craig Thompson: even though he is much more “graphic novel-esque,” not “illustrated novel” (which might break down my argument) he has the same thread (Blankets and Carnet are the only ones I’ve read so far, but they hold up to this category for me). His work has the same laughs and scars. It’s in the stroke of his pen; he belongs. Maybe it’s not just about the illustrations. What is it?
Where did I even find all of them? In a way, I think they were drawn out towards me like boats on currents in the night sea, like magnetic pulls. A recommendation from a friend’s bookshelf. Second-Hand bookstores in Edinburgh and Amsterdam. The sales section of a Barnes and Nobles. A university library, the selection hunted out by a friend. A beautiful present that kept me awake reading it all night.
Can you think of more that I’ve missed? Which ones have I not met yet? Do you know what I mean about these books? Have you found similar conceptual threads or themes of a similar nature but not exactly like this?
I want to follow these books wherever they lead.