More than Words

As an English major, I am often asked to analyze the text inside of a book, the meaning of the hodgepodge words and phrases printed onto the page. This kind of analyzing is a mental exercise that sometimes involves intuition, but rarely the senses. I cannot recall a time in recent memory that I have been asked to analyze a book using my visual, tactile, and olfactory senses. But, I suppose this analysis could actually be a helpful exercise, as the meaningfulness of the object of the book often is overlooked.

In the modern world we live in, books are a common fixture. Books are everywhere, they are a part of our culture, they are in our homes, our schools, and even, sometimes, our streets. Books are so common, that characterizing the physical object, not just for its content, but for its overall presence seems strange. But, as Amaranth Borsuk deliberates in “The Book”, the distance between us and the physicality of a book was not always the case. Monks in the early middle ages “spent six hours a day hunched before the page in cold scriptorium, incurring back-aches, headaches, eye strain, and cramps, all while wasting away the daylight hours …” (48). Even though this does not seem like the most pleasant experience, these monks had intimate relationships with the book, in ways that we will likely never experience. The creation of these “illuminated manuscripts” employed all the senses.

With the toil of these monks in mind, I decided to analyze my copy of C.D. Wright’s “Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil”.

Image courtesy of Amazon

The book feels smooth, almost plastic like in my hands. The cover is thin but sturdy and the pages are coarser paper but easy to flip through. The book is the light, but feels well-made. The spine is only about a quarter of an inch thick. The book wants to lay shut, but I peer inside. The colors inside are what any reader would expect, off-white pages and black letters. The words are printed in an average serif font. The colors on the cover are neutral – black, white, and gray – with a pop of a deep, blood-like, red highlighting certain details, especially the title and the poets name. The artwork on the cover is stylized, strange, and compelling. It leaves me curious, but also slightly uneasy. The book feels and looks familiar in structure and shape. Holding it in my hands is a recognizable activity. But, the colors and the artwork on the front cover keep me inquisitive and not completely comfortable, which leads me to conclude that the book should be a welcoming object as well as an object that challenges us and dares us to find new meaning.

Wright, C. D. Cooling Time: an American Poetry Vigil. Copper Canyon Press, 2005.

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. MIT Publishers, 2018.

1 thought on “More than Words”

  1. I like that you mention how long it has been since you have been required to analyze something using your senses. I automatically thought back to how we had to make observations about materials in high school chemistry, high school biology, and other early science classes but how little that is done in college. Now it is more of – don’t sniff that – and put on your gloves! I miss that from English courses too, where we were told to write a poem about an object. I think you capture something that most people do not even realize has gone away.

    Like

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