The Value in the Non-Traditional

“The language of the book as a space of fixity, certainty, and order reminds us that the book has been transmuted into an idea and ideal based on the role it plays in culture.”

Amaranth Borsuk, “The Book” (194)
“Black Bear” Non-Traditional Book / Self-Photographed

A book is more than a collection of pages bound together by glue and wrapped in a hard cover. While this may be the image we are familiar with, it does not fully encapsulate what a book can be. As Ulises Carrion says, “A book may be the accidental container of a text, the structure of which is irrelevant to the book: these are the books of bookshops and libraries. A book can also exist as an autonomous and self-sufficient form, including perhaps a text that emphasizes that form, a text that is an organic part of that form: here begins the new art of making books” (Carrion). Books do not require the strict formatting we might normally see and be familiar with, and some authors may choose to abandon the traditional book format for a more artistic and expressive formatting technique.

My book, or rather, my non-traditional book, is relatively simple: consisting of a poem that I wrote inscribed with black Sharpie on a cut rectangle of wood particle board. It does not appear to be a book at a glance but reading the words and understanding why these materials were chosen may help to identify what makes a poem on a piece of wood a book. In this case, the poem, which is more rustic in nature and “woodsy,” dealing with a forest and a black bear, lends itself well to the rustic feel provided by a board of wood. The material reveals more about the piece and presents more of the feeling that is intended through the piece’s content.

The material upon which “Black Bear” is written is very thin and relatively fragile / Self-Photographed

Artist Johanna Drucker examines the book as an art form, saying “A book…is not an inert thing that exists in advance of interaction, rather it is produced new by the activity of each reading…Thus in thinking of a book, whether literal or virtual, we should paraphrase Heinz von Foerster…and ask “how” a book “does” its particular actions, rather than “what” a book “is””(Drucker). So when evaluating this book object that I have created, we must ask how it carries out its intended purpose. In this case, this object’s purpose is to convey a story and present it in a way that is reminiscent of its rustic setting. For me, the piece serves its intended purpose, therefore, it can easily be labelled a book.

It’s challenging at first to look at a non-traditional book object and see it as a book, but once a certain familiarity with the idea of non-traditional formatting is adopted, a whole new world of artistic possibilities opens up.

Carrion, Ulises. “The New Art of Making Books.” Kontexts, 1975.

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

Drucker, Johanna. “The Virtual Codex: From Page Space to E-Space.” 2003.

2 thoughts on “The Value in the Non-Traditional”

  1. Nice job of identifying how your choices of materials aim for a more organic relationship between form and content. I like that you connect that choice-making to J Drucker’s notion of the ‘active’ book—doing rather than inertly being. I wish that you had discussed the one, open face of the page, a page that is self-standing, heavy, thick as a result of the particle board. What happens when the book lays itself open for us, that has a single overt face? What is it when reading is to face that one face? How is it “rustic”? I’m totally convinced that it IS, I just would have loved to hear more of your own thinking here. Lovely object and great questions raised.


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