Warning: Many books were harmed in the making of this thesis project.
In the digital age, information is only a click away. With the Internet available in our pockets, it’s unlikely to start an investigation anywhere else.
Rather than scrolling through the thousands of websites selected through a Google search, I used my device to search the library stacks.
My thesis started with research on how books were produced from the time of the Sumerian clay tablets to the invention of papyrus by the Egyptians to the use of parchment for scrolls and manuscripts to the invention of paper from wood pulp. I read about the various ways books have been decorated to produce meaning and bundled together to create a mobile source of information. The book—once the primary way of disseminating literature—no longer rules the information domain; that right belongs to Internet domains.
We now have e-books, audio-books, and downloadable PDFs to produce our own copies of literature. We have websites, apps, and digital communication channels to foster all engagement types. All of which have organizational systems similar to those of the codex and the scroll.
While capable of light speeds, delivering massive data quantities, and multiple dimensions of it, the conceptual model for many digital platforms is that of a book.
Taking into consideration its changing forms and uses throughout history and its evolution into electronic information organization, what is a book?
“Book” is a word we use to describe something of a particular form: a series of pages between covers. Four ways we discuss publications like these are as narratives, sources of information, objects, and archives. We read books primarily for entertainment and instruction, but not all books are meant to be read cover to cover. Some books house information for posterity and some are purely ornamental.
Breaking Books explores what a book is. The project uses four published novels: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person, Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. These publications were analyzed, disassembled, rearranged, and synthesized back into books.
The Glass Castle is made of many small sections—blips of memory in the author’s life. The whole novel consists of mini stories separated into parts. In order to combat the notion of book as narrative, I separated the basic components of stories—the beginning, the middle, and the end—into multiple books. One book contains only the beginnings and ends of each story and the other contains only the middles.
To combat the idea of books as carriers of information, I eliminated all information from the book. In order to prevent North of Normal from giving any information to the reader, I removed all organizational markings (i.e., page numbers, chapter starters, running heads, etc) as well as all images. I then crossed out all descriptive words so that the book is incomprehensible as a story.
I altered Chanel Bonfire into the materials to create its namesake object--a Chanel bonfire. The pages were removed from the binding and crumbled into a box with matches, cut outs of Chanel products from other publications, and other items that fit thematically. This sealed box is a starter kit to build a Chanel bonfire. Add your own sticks and logs to keep the fire going.
A selection of objects representing different characters and events in Eleanor Oliphant’s journey in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine were recreated at a small scale and tucked away inside a box. This box of trinkets tells Eleanor’s story like a time capsule, a puzzle ready to be pieced together by the reader.
The final products of this project draw on the work of contemporary artists and designers; old editions of the Prattonia, the Pratt Institute Yearbook; as well as from projects in previous classes and conversations with my thesis advisor.
Together these books create a library of commentary on the use and form of a book. They establish that the form is important but is not definitive and that the content is important but not definitive. Depending on a persons lens, they may have a more narrow or wider acceptance of what a book is.
Historically, books have been the primary carrier of information, but now that we have the Internet, books can be whatever they want to be.