Crazy Book People
It's not just me. There are lots of us who are weird about books. We just don't necessarily announce ourselves. Crazy book people are notoriously introverted.
Last night I led a session for teachers about combining visual arts with emotional literacy in the classroom. I lead four of these throughout the year for my job, and this was the session I looked forward to the most. It was the book-making session. The third unit of this curriculum I'm writing is all about book arts -- which loyal readers will know I am obsessed with. So last night my session was comprised of just teaching teachers how to do three pretty simple book bindings. This, to me, was pretty close to living out the kind of fantasy you only reveal to strangers on your OK Cupid profile.
When I was six, my family briefly lived in Washington, D.C. My favorite game in those days should have been called, "Waste All The Printer Paper" -- but I called it "Library." The way this game worked was that I took all the printer paper, folded pairs of sheets in half (hamburger style) to form four-page booklets, and wrote as many "books" as I could manage in the scope of one hour. Titles included: "Favorite Horses With Other Animals," "What If Princesses Were Horses," "Pictures of Realistic Horses," "Gowns I Would Like," and "Horses In Gowns." There were others. I had a box of crayons that contained SIXTY-FOUR colors, so I was basically set in the book-making department.
Once I had created roughly twenty (riveting, Pulitzer-worthy) books, I stacked them all up under the end table in the living room and forced my sister to "check them out." She'd normally respond by saying, "I don't want to," which made sense, because she was three and had absolutely no interest in books whatsoever. I would respond to THAT by dragging her by the feet to the "library." If she cried, I charged her a late fee.
This game was the most fun game I could imagine, and I wanted to play it all the time. What could possibly be better than a library? Printer paper gave me the opportunity to have a library any time I wanted it, any PLACE I wanted it, that had only the kinds of books I wanted to read (mostly horse-themed). At one point in my childhood, my dad explained to me the concept of the Library of Babel -- which is supposed to be a kind of terrifying short story about a library containing every possible book of a certain format. I think he was trying to kind of freak me out. That night, I masturbated to the idea. Sometimes I still do.
There is just something about making a book.
Bookmaking contains the marvelous potential of collecting everything that matters to you in one place. There is a sense of wholeness to it. A bright white glow of possibility.
Last night, we tore giant sheets of creamy, thick paper into smaller sheets of creamy, thick paper. We poked holes in it and wound string through it and wrapped it in colored paper, and there were moments, as I looked around the room, that I could tell I wasn't alone. There were others. There were other adults -- teachers by day; cardigan-wearers; tired out and scratchy-throated -- who had a definite buzz. They lit up when the paper was folded and the signatures sewn. The books were magic.
I am not going to try to explain this further. You're either one of us or you aren't. You understand it or you don't. A girl during the session said, "Wow, you're, like, really INto this. I haven't met anyone besides my grandfather who is, like, into book arts. Who knew this was even a thing?" There are plenty of us. We hide in plain sight. We are the types who have scads of empty journals in trunks in our basements. We go to bookstores and wait until no one is looking and then open the thickest volumes just to stick our noses in and smell the binding. We sit in airports with our editions of Proust and gently bend the pages back and forth like an accordion, just to hear how the paper sounds.