It’s no secret I love old books.
I cry over them like they’re wounded, abandoned puppies crouching behind a garbage bin in the rain.
Sometimes I rescue them, but then have no use for them. (Again, like puppies.)
Often there’s a story behind the compulsion to save them.
I’ll save any Little House on the Prairie book I see, simply because I lost my original set of them in a flood. (For the same reason, I’m drawn to Choose Your Own Adventure.)
I’ll save many an illustrated children’s book from the 1960s because the art makes me want to shake my hips in a way I don’t know how.
I’ll save a book inscribed to Marty or to Catherine. Especially if it was inscribed before I was born.
I’ll save, on the rare occasion I find one, a COUPLES or a SISTERS or anything by Christopher Pike with the express intent to read them with my daughter when she’s 12.
I like old books.
I like to imagine the shelves they once sat in, the boats they traveled by, the author, the editor, the sweat poured into their being.
Which is why, when I discovered in the kibbutz giveaway pile a year ago a Scholastic Book of Poetry edited by Ann McGovern, I snatched it up and placed it on the saved books shelf on the top floor of my house.
It was a triple threat, quadruple even, the 1960s publication of a Scholastic book club book with its retro cover, with its pages filled with poems by ee cummings and Langston Hughes and Maxine Kumin and Basho, and peppered with adorable little one-color illustrations. For the cherry on top, there was editor Ann McGovern: a goddess of children’s books and someone I remember from my days as a young assistant at Scholastic. (What I didn’t know until after I completed the project below is that serendipitously McGovern also enjoys creating collage art.)
I’ve been meaning for some time to take a book from my saved collection and turn it into something new. So it serves a purpose other than collecting dust on the shelf. I got the idea after visiting a gallery in Jaffa last year. Passing a wall of framed art, I noticed one was simply a circa 1950s Dick and Jane book cover torn out, framed, and priced at 200 shekels. After I got over my shock that someone tore off a vintage book cover, put it in a frame, and priced it at 200 shekels, I realized, “Wait a minute. I just might buy that. I am someone who would buy something like that.” And if I would, others (with a lot more money to spend) would, too.
I didn’t decide then and there to start my own recycled books-as-art business, but I filed away the idea of it. I liked the prospect of saving old books from doom and turning them into new art. Thinking about it made me happy.
I’ve always loved creating collages. Looking back at old pictures of my childhood bedroom recently reminded me of this. Why not create collages with the old books I’ve saved?
Today, I dug in and created my first.
The process, I learned, is an art in and of itself. It was impromptu and yet fluid. I didn’t know exactly where I was going when I started, but when I went to the old books shelf and saw the Book of Poetry this morning, I knew that was the book to start with.
And so I sat in front of the patio door where the sun shines in brightest, and I read Frost and ripped.
I positioned Edna St. Vincent Millay and pasted her next to Paul Bunyan.
I made sure, too, Ann McGovern still got credit and that bits and pieces of the lovely retro cover remained.
And the result makes me happy. Like a rescued puppy brought in from the rain.