You don't get to be a writer without being obsessed by books. I've never understood writers who profess never to read anyone else's work, or have found one who didn't use to haunt libraries or other people's book shelves when they were a kid. BUT it's not solely for the words, there's a deep pleasure in the physical being of books, the way the covers open and sometimes - if you're lucky - slap back together with a satisfying noise, the slight flaws you get sometimes along the edge of the paper, how it feels in your hand and the smell, oh the smell. One of my best moments ever was finding Bloomsbury had put one of those thin red bookmarks in the hard cover of Something Beginning With. It really was like a present.
Anyway, I've just come back from a week learning how to make books for myself. It was surprisingly hard work. The group I was in went into overdrive from day one - starting at 9am and sometimes not finishing until we were chucked out of the workshop at 10pm. But what a luxury to concentrate on one thing for so long. Our first day was spent visiting Khadi papers for possibly the most orgasmic half hour of my life. So many colours, so many papers, so many textures. Yum, yum, yum. Then we calmed ourselves down by realising we were going to have to do something with all the papers we'd bought.
This is one of my books. I wanted to do something with one of my poems, Night Letters, and what better way to package it than to make a bed?
The poem unfolds in concertina fashion from the headboard - each stanza slowly following the next in a way I like much better than just reading it on the page:
And although my handwriting might not be perfect, I did get to write with a gold pen:
Just spending a week concentrating about the structure of a book (and for the purists among you, I did spend most of the time learning how to make a book 'properly' with sewn on covers, careful measurements etc before letting myself loose on having fun with the bed), makes me think even more why we haven't moved on from the basic shape of a traditional book. Of course, B S Johnson did try to change everything, particularly with his The Unfortunates, but I can't help noticing that even this positive review uses both 'infamous' and 'notorious' in the first sentence as if he's done something he should be ashamed about.
But children's publishers know all about tactile pleasure in books - Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar must be as popular with parents as well as kids for the way you get to play with the pages. I remember from when my kids were small, books that rattled, or scratched, and, of course, popped up in surprising ways.
Maybe it's just that strange shaped books don't fit easily into bookshelves once we become adults? Can't be tidied away and forgotten about? I'm on a mission now to find adult fiction books that let me play as a reader, not just with the words, and won't let themselves be tucked away. Any suggestions gratefully received.