Stone of Remembrance

April 19, 2006

This into that

Filed under: Commentary — admin @ 10:01

A reader pointed me at a site called This Into That, a gallery of a furniture designer whose work consists of books stuck together to form furniture. “I wish he was affordable,” the reader told me.

I found it repulsive. I know, it’s a way of making use of old books, but as I told the reader in IM, this poked directly at my upbringing. I am (on one side) first-generation American – my mom emigrated from Italy in 1930 – and on the other, poor working-class. Books were sacred in the house I grew up in. My Aunt Val objected to books being placed on the floor; she was an elementary school teacher and used to say, “Books are our friends.” Sappy, I know.

It reminded me of wealthy folks who select fine books for their color or binding, so they can have them glued into place on shelves for the visual effect. They’ve stopped being books then, which kind of flies in the face of their whole purpose. When I visited the Adams house in Quincy, Massachusetts, part of the tour my daughter and I took was to see the library – a separate, fireproof building filled with the books that the Adams family prized. The only problem was that most of them are fragile now and can’t be touched or looked at. What a shame. I would have liked to look at them – not as objects, but as windows into the knowledge that John Quincy Adams and his family loved to acquire.

I love books. Always have. It’s part of my upbringing – both parents were readers. Reading leads to writing; that leads to more reading. Making books into inanimate objects such as chairs and shelves bothers me. I bear no ill will to Mr. Jim Rosenau and wish him the best of luck, but none of his work will come to my house even if I can afford it.

No Comments

  1. But now you’re talking religion. What do you do with sacred objects when they are used up? You burn flags, using a proper procedure that pays honor to the object. Churches are deconsecrated.

    One of my pet peeves is that there is nowhere for old books to go. Schools and libraries and vets organizations and senior centres take certain kinds of texts, but beyond that, there’s only recycling – or holding down the East Coast so that California doesn’t slide into the sea.

    This at least recycles them into useable objects – unless you’d rather burn them.

    Comment by Mei — April 19, 2006 @ 11:17

  2. I guess the problem is that I don’t necessarily think that the books being used by this guy are “used up”. I think he picks books that have a nice appearance regardless of their usability, like rich people’s libraries. You don’t see any of his stuff made of old National Geographics.

    Recycling? How about pulping and making them into new books? At least then they’d have been “deconsecrated”.


    Comment by hotc — April 19, 2006 @ 11:34

  3. I wish I’d known you when I trashed the 300 lawbooks that were donated to my school library. I would have given them to you instead.

    After spending the better part of a day hauling the heavy books upstairs and dusting them off, I realized that they were useless for my school library. I called public libraries, two attorneys and the state attorney general office’s librarian and was told that they are USELESS. Lawyers use CDroms and online databases now.

    I finally had to ask our maintainance people to take them to the dumpster.

    Comment by Jan — April 19, 2006 @ 18:39

  4. I’m with you on this one. Using books–however boring and dated they might be–as mere building materials for shelving may strike some postmodern types as witty, but this second-generation American agrees that it’s an abomination.

    I once destroyed a book because I was greatly offended by its content. The echoes of the guilt I felt afterward haunt me to this day. That’s one sin I won’t commit again. Now I would rather give away books than destroy them, no matter what their content is. Refusing to treat books as, on some level, sacred, leads down a slippery slope to censorship and other bad stuff.

    Though it’s hard to say what should be done with books, like the old law books referred to by Jan, above–that have outlived their role and are desired by no one. We need a better answer for that than the dumpster, though I don’t know what answer that is. Maybe books in that role should be respectfully cremated, like a worn-out U.S. flag.

    Comment by Cathy Raymond — April 20, 2006 @ 16:27

  5. I appreciate the thoughtful response to my artwork, above. It took me many years to get the guts to try making a bookshelf out of books. I was sure it would be wrong. Like you, I was raised better, though in a house with 5,000 books that my father, a publisher, was not reading.

    The books I use look better than they read. Yet I’m sure you could find something among my collection you want to read. And it’s easier than ever to get a copy of anything you want to read, but for most of us, harder than ever to find the time. These are not rare or valuable books in the book trade–dealers passed on them before I got them. I choose books that look good and say something useful to me a writer. Each piece conveys a theme using book titles. If I did not like the end result better than the parts I wouldn’t be doing this any more. At first, I was fascinated by the construction challenge. Then the verbal and visual compositions became primary.

    In the end, the work gets more attention than these volumes do sitting on shelves. And attention seems to be the scarce resource in this time and place, not the books I find.


    Comment by Jim Rosenau — April 29, 2006 @ 00:27

  6. Jim,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to post this comment. You might be surprised what I’d want to read – you can ask my friends about what makes it to my shelf. But still, I appreciate that no valuable manuscripts were consumed in the process of making your art-piece furniture and shelves.

    There’s an old joke that we perpetuate here on the East Coast. “Do you want to know why there are so many copies of National Geographic in attics out here? – It’s simple. If we discarded them, California would be so heavy that it would tip the country straight upright.” (Accompanying visual gesture.) It’s true that books have become so commonplace, so numerous and so unread that they are easy to view as, and transform into, objects. When a book dealer came to look at what was left of my parents’ books (after we’d picked over them), he suggested that we put the remainder out on the curb with the trash. I was appalled at that suggestion.

    I haven’t changed my opinion of the idea, but your thoughtful response may well merit a personal apology to you. It’s clear that you’ve thought more about this than I originally perceived. Perhaps we should talk over a cup of coffee sometime when I’m out in the Bay Area . . .

    Walter. (Who, by the way, hopes his books never become a coffee table.)

    Comment by hotc — April 29, 2006 @ 09:23

  7. [...] I’ve had a nice exchange with Jim Rosenau, who (you might remember) is responsible for catching my attention with a site called This Into That – it uses books as components for making furniture such as shelves. I have to admit being a bit ticked off at the idea, but he was nice enough to post a response here, and recently sent me the following e-mail: Please feel free to visit the studio when you are in the Bay Area. If you find a book in my collection that you want to read (not just fondle and shelve) — it’s yours. [...]

    Pingback by Stone of Remembrance » This into that, reprise — May 14, 2006 @ 21:18

  8. Hello! Very interesting and professional site.

    Comment by kori — July 2, 2006 @ 05:44

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