“Our challenge, as students of the book, is to think about the way its materiality is both a product and constituent of its historic moment,” writes Amaranth Borsuk in “The Book as Object,” the first chapter of The Book (34). Materiality has always been for me a large piece of the book reading experience. In the historic moment of my childhood, I carefully held paperback books that used to belong to my parents, such as Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, which were over thirty years old, yellowing and falling apart in sections at the spine. In the historic moment of my adolescence, when I got my first iPhone and started working, I took the plunge into the e-book world and discovered that it was not in fact necessary to cart around an extra few pounds in order to always have reading material on hand. Now, in the present historic moment, I have learned to read and appreciate poetry, always in print form. On my shelf now is Toi Derricotte’s “i”: new and selected poems, recently published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
“i” is hardback. “i” is covered in a glossy jacket. When I take the jacket off, “i” is a mustard yellow color with black lettering smoothly inked onto the spine. That the black is smooth is notable because the mustard yellow is not smooth. It is made out of tiny mustard yellow fibers that form a crosshatch pattern, tickling the pads of my fingers as I run them over the cover. When I open the book, it makes a soft crackling sound, almost too weak to hear, and the pages are robust and substantial, resolute in their purpose. When I look at them closely, they look like the plaster on a smooth, eggshell wall. They also look like eggshells, except flat. The copyright page informs me that the paper is acid free. So are eggshells. I think Toi Derricotte would appreciate that underneath the glossy outer shell of her collection, I found eggshells.
Other practical (read: material) considerations for reading “i”: Find a cozy chair to curl up in, because two hands are required to hold the book open. I believe this is because of both the height and the weight. “i” measures 9 ¼ inches tall, which doesn’t seem very tall, but it is too tall to hold comfortably with one hand. I generally use two hands anyway, regardless of height and weight, because I need one hand to hold the book open and one to turn the pages. There are 298 pages in “i”; somehow this is important information.
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. The MIT Press, 2018.
Derricotte, Toi. “i”: new and selected poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.