Contemplating Angels: A Critical Response of an Accordion Book

                Author and artist Ulises Carrión sought for “authors to be more attuned to the book’s materiality and impact on meaning” as well as “demand for a breakdown of the system that privileged writing as intellectual labor and denigrated the physical aspect of book production” (Borsuk 141). Just as Carrión would have admired, my nameless accordion book of angels breaks the standard mold of the book, presenting itself as more of a visual book than the mere textual book that Carrión was so disappointed in. Still, I kept some of the traditional aspects of the book when constructing my work, giving it both a front and back cover. As a visual book, my accordion book is composed mostly of images, showcasing the angels and the pages themselves as works of visual art.

An accordion book with images of angels with the pages cut to resemble wings. Text on the inside cover reads: "Four great angels at my bed; two my feet, and two my head".
[Photo taken by Isabel Sicree] My accordion book of angels, standing open upon the wings.

                Though I mostly used basic materials for constructing the book, the images of the angels came from a postcard book I had owned for a number of years. Interestingly, I tore the pages out of another quasi-book to construct my own bookwork. After all, would a book created to be torn apart and sent all over the world not be considered some kind of alternate book type? These postcards reflect a part of my own past in the meaning of the book, both as a kind of scrapbook portrayal in the placement of the images, and as a display of my faith through the angels themselves. In a sense, my book becomes a prayer book, sending messages to heaven upon the reflection of the reader. Just as Amaranth Borsuk says, “books are always a negotiation, a performance, an event: even a Dickens novel remains inert until a reader opens it up, engaging its language and imaginative world” (Borsuk 147). The material nature of this book entices a reflective reader to find his or her own engagement with the images. Just as the postcards remain mostly blank on the back to allow personal messages to be written, so too does my book remain mostly blank on the backside, leaving space for letters and writing to be added.

                In this way, my desired reader would be a contemplative person, someone who peers into the images and faces on the pages and forms his or her own conclusions. I deliberately try to evoke this response from my reader through the irregular shape of the pages of my book. I cut the folded pages to resemble angel wings, and these pages stick out beyond the cover and the images fastened upon them, implying something beyond the mold of the typical book. Likewise, the sparse text that I include in my book also suggests something beyond the book itself, as the poetic prayers speak of angels and saints at night time watching over us, making the mostly black covers of the book resemble the idea of a Bible or a prayer book. Still, the text acts as an accent to the visual nature of the book, allowing each image to converse with the reader instead.

Works Cited

                Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

The Book in the Bullet Journal and in OneNote: CC1

            Both my bullet journal and my OneNote notebooks are organizational books that question traditional ideas of what a book is and can be. A bullet journal, though it is in the form of a conventional codex, is sequential, and is sized like a normal book, is unique in that it intermingles art with words to truly capture the rich entanglement of the human mind. A OneNote notebook, on the other hand, does not adhere to the conventional codex form at all. It does not, in fact, even exist outside the realm of OneDrive and the laptop. Yet, its content resembles that of a book. Although it is written in, it is made primarily to be read. Like the bullet journal, its primary reader is also its author, as it is facilitated in a way that prizes organization of one mind in particular – that of its creator. My bullet journal and OneNote notebooks both capture the organizational tendencies of my mind and creating a loading dock for memories and ideas. They reach this goal, however, in completely different ways.

From the outside, my bullet journal looks suspiciously like a book and so I easily view and read it as a book object, although its content is non-conventional. It has a hard cover, a spine and corners, front and end pages, a fly leaf, and so forth. Its binding is very traditional and gathers all the pages together under a single cover. It does not appear to test the boundaries of the book form. Instead, it conforms neatly to traditional ideas of a codex and what it should look like. Ulises Carrión, as quoted by Amaranth Borsuk, contends that “bookworks take on greater importance when the codex itself seems to be imperiled” (Borusk 145). This is not the case for my bullet journal, which I chose for its unassuming and conventional nature; its importance is at the personal, not public, level. Its blank cover, indeed, is a blank slate for creativity.

[Image Description: the front cover of my bullet journal. The cover is pale pink with a similarly toned pale pink ribbon enclosing the book. The bullet journal is lying on a wooden background and is surrounded by other books.]

Rather, a bullet journal toys with the entanglement of text with artistry. In fact, mine has very little text so far, though I envision adding more in the future. Its very form is ideal for artistic creation, albeit a creation that is bounded by the conscribes of the codex’s covers. The paper is thin and dotted, not lined; the dots imply a sense that the book is unfinished – which it is, as the book comes sold without any text added other than that of the introduction and table of contents (and which itself plays with traditional ideas of language as it is written simultaneously in German, English, and French) and without any art added yet. This type of book, one that is intentionally unfinished at purchase, reminds us that “reading is an exchange, and one that is only completed when we arrive” (Borsuk 154). Indeed, many of my bullet journal’s pages currently lie dormant, awaiting the flowing vitality of a pen and human hand.

[Image Descriptions: the left picture is the penciled outline of my August 2021 spread in my bullet journal. There are three flowers on the bottom, a calendar grid in the middle, and the words “August 2021” written in cursive on the top. The right picture is my finished August 2021 spread. The outlines from the left picture have been colored in. The flower in the middle is white with a yellow center while the flowers on each side of it are orange with a yellow center. The words “August 2021” are written in gold ink and traced with black pen. The calendar is filled in black and dated in gold.]

Unlike most traditional books, the bullet journal is personal. It is not made to be read by others, but rather to record the innermost thoughts and outward mundanities of its owner. In that sense, for a bullet journal-er, “everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book” (see Borsuk 134 and Mallarme’s notion of the book). The table of contents works hand-in-hand with the journal’s purpose to organize thoughts and ideas that would otherwise remain unorganized and even chaotic. To this end, the bullet journal exists as its own, self-contained world. The cover ribbons, moreover, concretize this notion of “closure” and “self-containment.” Yet, there is also a sense of transcendence and temporality alike, found through the thinness of the paper. Not only can the reader, holding the paper up to light, see through to the next page and set of writing, but so too does the writing material itself bleed through, no matter the instrument. These writing instruments, furthermore, are not chosen for their functionality, but for their beauty, as the bullet journal is first and foremost a work of art encapsulated within the covers of a book. My own bullet journal, for example, combines several different types of pens, including the Papermate InkJoy pens, traditional thin-tipped Sharpies, and Zebra Mildliners. These pens are very stylistic of my own personality and feature often in my own life. Thus, even the materials used in the creation of the bullet journal are subtly personal.

The bullet journal differs most differently from the traditional codex because it is quite literally designed to be written and drawn in. Like with other books, the exchange of time and thought with the page is critical; yet, this process, in a bullet journal, does not occur through meditative reading but through vibrant, dynamic creation. In this sense, a bullet journal is akin to an artist’s book, although it does not often test the conventional structure of the codex. It draws the attention of its author alone and foster an expressive space on the page for them to exist and create within the world of the book, making even non-artists into innovative and original creators.

Although my OneNote organizational system contains many of the same strands of content as my bullet journal, it deconstructs traditional notions of what a book is at all. Unlike even the earliest of books, scrolls, it does not exist in the physical world. Yet, it can still be considered a book. Borsuk’s earliest definition of a book is “a portable data storage and distribution method” (Borsuk 1), and there is nothing as portable as the Internet cloud and the laptop used to view it. Moreover, like papyrus, OneNote is popular because “its greatest asset [is] mobility” (Borsuk 19). And, like traditional material texts, OneNote exists “largely for administrative purposes” (Borsuk 21), that of organizing my academic and personal life under a single roof. The names of its subsections – notebooks, sections, and pages – connote the characteristics of physical notebooks, which have merely been moved to the digital realm. Also like a traditional book, in OneNote, “writing’s form and materials developed in dialogue with one another” (Borsuk 24). I write differently in my bullet journal than I do in OneNote. OneNote celebrates multiple ways of writing, thinking, and reading as it allows me to type, highlight, and handwrite simultaneously, whereas a bullet journal celebrates primarily the aesthetic qualities of the handwritten and hand drawn.

[Image Description: My OneNote set up for my German class for Fall 2021. The screen is set to a page that says “Week 1 Notes.” There are 12 sections on the left side of the page, each assigned to a different color in rainbow order, beginning with green and ending with orange. There are 5 pages within the section called “Elementary German I,” each with their own subpages.]

My bullet journal and OneNote setup contain much of the same content, yet I am much quicker to categorize my bullet journal as a book than my OneNote. This is because of the digitization of OneNote. But, I consider an e-Book to be a book as much as a physical codex is, because there is often a palpable sense that the e-Book is merely a book uploaded online. OneNote, by contrast, originates online and does not function well physically. It draws on the capabilities of the technologies that house it to encourage a unique dynamic of constant exchange and modification, like the ideal book does between author and reader. And, indeed, OneNote shares many traits with a traditional codex, as outlined above. Because “writing develops alongside, influences, and is influenced by the technological supports that facilitate its distribution” (Borsuk 3), OneNote represents a shining innovation in what we deem a “book.” Its organization is different than that of a bullet journal because of its many sublayers, which are possible only within the digital realm. Within each notebook (Fall 2019, Spring 2020, etc.), are as many as twelve subjects, each with tens of pages within them. This level of organization mirrors the organization I yearn for within my brain and works in tandem with the artistic and aesthetic organization of thoughts and ideas within my bullet journal.

There is no glaring reason, then, for my OneNote to not be a book. In fact, it is perhaps more of a book than a physical book is because it can be easily modified, thus creating a space that simultaneously fosters the preservation of ideas while ensuring that reading remains a truly interactive exchange. Both my bullet journal and my OneNote notebooks record thoughts that would otherwise go unrecorded and organize ideas that would otherwise go unorganized. They differ in how they align with the characteristics of the codex – and the extent to which they align – but are nevertheless both deserving of the title “book.”

Works Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

Cosmic and Personal: Natalia Zapella’s Artist’s Book


Artists’ books intricately link the reader with the author of a book. They reinforce the idea that reading is, primarily, an exchange, a codification of ideas and discourse that simultaneously encourages active engagement. Artists’ books, perhaps more so than any other form of book, lay bare the connections between text and art, neither of which fully encapsulate the whole of human experience, but which do so more fully in tandem with each other. Moreover, as Amaranth Borsuk posits, “artists’ books continually remind us of the reader’s role in the book by forcing us to reckon with its materiality and, by extension, our own embodiment” (Borsuk 147). Yet, so, too, can artists’ books expand beyond materiality and embodiment, as is the case with Natalia Zapella’s book, Nights, the Cosmos, and I.

            From its very title, Zapella locates the human person in a realm far greater than any individual being. The placement of “I” at the end of the title both downplays our significance in the face of the cosmos and also emphasizes humanity and our even-staccato-esque individuality. The book’s form is also significant. As an accordion book, the book is “a sequence of spaces” that “implies its capacity for animation” (Borsuk 157). Yet, as a sequence of spaces, an accordion book also implies an “other” beyond the physical page – such as the cosmos. Similarly, the tiny white font contrasts with the vastness of the dark page and destresses our importance in the entirety of the universe. The neutral colors of the thread also highlight simplicity, even as an accordion book – and artist’s book in general – is usually a more intricate form of book than a traditional codex.

[Image Description: A picture of Natalia Zapella’s artist book, Nights, the Cosmos, and I. The pages are dark gray, with small, white, and all-caps font on the left page. On the right page, stars and moons are etched in black, white, and brown thread. The book is lying open on a wooden background.]

            Zapella also, however, purposely designed the book so that the threads could never be completely hidden away. In doing so, she makes space for finitude and limitation, qualities which are very much human qualities – even as the threads are used to construct images not of humans, but of galaxies and stars, for example. She therefore blends the human, earthly dimension with an interstellar cosmos far beyond human grasp. Likewise, the text intermingles personal and cosmic. The speaker first writes that they “can’t sleep” and that, at night, they “can finally see the stars” (Zabella 2, 7). Yet, they also direct the readers’ attention towards the constellations and galaxies (Zabella 8, 9). Thus, the text is a microcosm of the whole book (as object and content combined), which inextricably links human and cosmic elements. So, too, though, is the whole book a microcosm of human emotions, such as awe, placed atop an interstellar scale that spotlights the smallness of all things human.

Works Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

“Nights, the Cosmos, and I.” Women’s Studio Workshop., accessed 22 September 2021.

Zapella, Natalia. Nights, the Cosmos, and I. Rosendale, Women’s Studio Workshop, 2015.

Entanglement – in Many Dimensions

Modern chapbooks, such as Rae Armantrout’s Entanglements, challenge the divorce of the book as object from the book as content by inextricably linking text and design to create a unified book entity. Though they are produced on a printing press, like a more conventional book, they nevertheless resist the separation of “the idea of the book from the object,” a separation that is often proliferated by the very act of printing (Borsuk 76). Entanglements is merely one example of a chapbook that blurs the induced divisions between object and idea. In the author’s note, Armantrout writes that the book is called Entanglements “not only for the baffling way two particles can become entangled so that they appear to communicate instantaneously, but also because of the way my daily life experiences and emotions became entangled…with what I was learning about physics” (Armantrout 1). The chapbook explores the intersection between science and humanities, but so too does its form as chapbook explore the intersection between the book object and the book content.

The layout of Entanglements underscores its goal. At the surface level, the book’s entanglement is how it blends science with humanistic disciplines such as philosophy and art. The computer-feeling paper, sharply capitalized titles, and Calibri-type font are all reminiscent of the sciences, while the mandalas on the front and back covers introduce an artistic element to the book’s design. Of course, the mandalas themselves are also entanglements, demonstrating wordlessly just how interconnected everything around us truly is. Yet, the back cover is even more of an entanglement than the front cover, as it expands the focus out from the mandala into the combination of mandala, computer-type design, and the simple word “poetry.” The green color on the cover introduces natural and scientific themes, but this green is neatly mixed into the overall cover design.

[Image Description: the front and back covers of Entanglements, a poetry chapbook written by Rae Armantrout. On the front, a green mandala is centered on a white cover. In the middle of the mandala, the word “Entanglements” appears in green lettering. The name “Rae Armantrout” is written in the bottom left corner in green lettering, with the surname “Armantrout” bolded. On the back cover, a smaller green mandala is in the center of the cover. It is surrounded by a series of lines and circles like that found in a computer. In the top, the word “poetry” appears in simple green lettering.]

Moreover, the simple binding brings all the pages together (rather than creating different bunches of pages). This simplicity once more unites the sciences and humanities. Clearly, then, the book’s design is quite intentional and one that purposefully entangles traditional notions of “literature,” “art,” and “science” together, much like its content also does.

The book’s text is infused with the entanglement between disciplines with which Armantrout was especially fascinated. On page 20, for example, Armantrout writes that “metaphor is homeopathy,” combining language with medicine, while the poem “Inscription” questions what it means to be human in its lines “as if you / could become another person / by setting off / an automatic / cascade of responses / in his/her body” (Armantrout 21-2). These lines are particularly fascinating. Their shortness calls to mind a series of computer code, as does the slash between “his” and “her,” almost as if the poem is providing a programming input. So, too, however, does the placement of the page break (and might this placement be intentional?) yanks readers out of the self-contained world of the poem, reminding them that they are guests within a book.

[Image Description: three pages of poetry from Entanglements. The first picture shows two pages laid side-by-side, while the second picture shows only the left side of the next set of pages. All the pages are printed with black ink in a “Calibri”-type font. The font used for the title of the poem “Inscriptions” is gray and is printed in an all-caps style. The pages are not numbered.]

As poetry that addresses philosophical questions, the science beneath the poems is not made explicit. Instead, it is buried beneath a web of entanglements that are present in both the text and the book object.

At the broadest level, a chapbook itself entangles notions of what a book “is” and “should be” by crafting an object that is both like conventional codices and also markedly different from them, all while including text like that found in a traditional book. A chapbook is at once at home with larger, more traditional codices – as it is made in the same general style – and yet is also a form of active resistance against the standardization of books. The chapbook calls to mind the fervor of printing and reading through both form and content, pushing out content as easily as possible while also remaining decidedly intentional in both layout and content. Thus, the chapbook format of Entanglements is itself a form of entanglement. The book purposefully entangles tradition with resistance, science with humanities, and design with content.

Works Cited

Armantrout, Rae. Entanglements. Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 2017.

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.