Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Some Good Uses for Old Books, or, That's Kinda Cool

I suppose with all these old books laying around, in need of recycling, reshelving, and remaindering, some physical use can be made of them. There's a quirkiness here, and says something culturally, but once you start to look at several of these structures, there's not much more to it. Maybe being in the gallery, and smelling the book would add....

Miler Lagos' Home (see here)

Janet Cardiff is one of my favorite artists. This isn't one of my favorite pieces by her (here with George Bures Miller for Modern Art Oxford), but fun nonetheless. Full title gives it a bit of conceptual heft: The House of Books has No Windows.

Slovakian artist Matej Kren's installation Scanner
Marta Minujin's Tower of Babel. See here for more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Off-site storage debate at NYPL

The Chronicle of Higher Education today reports on a debate at the New York Public Library over Off-site Storage. The Library is considering sending many more of its volumes to Recap, a storage facility run by Columbia, Princeton and the NYPL in New Jersey.
The library promises that materials sent to Recap will be safely stored and quickly accessible—usually within 24 hours—to patrons who request them. Critics say that remote storage doesn't work so well in practice, and that the wrong message is sent by taking books out of the heart of the librar.
This is a familiar debate which played out on my campus at Syracuse University two years ago. The rest of the Chronicle article, however, reads like an advertizement for off-site storage. It presents the objections and counters them, point by point, continuing a unfortunate trend at this newspaper to displace news with advocacy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bookbinding video

The Discovery Channel's "How Its Made" series shows the craft of book-binding in fascinating detail:

Free Qurans controversial in Germany

An interesting feature of iconic books is that the most cherished books may be given away free. This commonly occurs with scriptures and usually elicits little comment. But when a conservative Salafi Muslim organization began giving away free Qur'ans in Hanover, urging passersby in German to LIES! "read!", it drew media coverage and political outrage. The New York Times (April 16) reported:
The campaign to hand out the Korans drew nationwide attention — and widespread condemnation — last week after journalists who had criticized the effort were threatened in an online video. And on Monday, the interior minister in Hesse, a state in central Germany, called Mr. Abou-Nagie and his followers “pied pipers” and said that the danger from radical Islam had reached “a new dimension.”
Here again, for both Muslims and non-Muslims, the book has become the emblem for the religious community and everything that people think it stands for.

Library resort hotel in Thailand

Michael Lieberman also calls attention to The Library, a resort hotel in Thailand that caters to bookish tourists. It's webpage proclaims: "If you can finish one book while staying with us, we think this is more than an accomplishment of our team."

Compare the Library Hotel in Manhattan.

Robison book pictures

Michael Lieberman of Book Patrol calls attention to the book-themed photos of Joel Robison, such as "F is for finding fiction in the forest":

Britain keeps St Cuthbert's Gospel

Books associated with particular places often take on nationalistic significance. This happened again when the 7th-century St Cuthbert's Gospel was put up for sale by the Jesuits this year.
It is touted as the world's "oldest intact book" because the original binding of the Gospel of John manuscript has survived. The British Library intends to digitize the book so that it is available to people "everywhere" online. But its campaign to raise the money emphasizes the urgency of keeping the Gospel "for the nation" because it is "a precious part of our heritage":

The campaign was successful: the Library has now acquired "one of the world’s most important books" for 9 million pounds.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Franzen's fear of e-books

Jonathan Franzen made headlines in January by announcing the he fears the effects of e-books. The acclaimed author of the novels, Freedom and The Corrections, both available as e-books, lamented digital texts' lack of permanence:

I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.
“Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball.
“But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

This blog has frequently documented the desire for the preservation  of cultures and values in the form of material books.

Giant Afghan Qur'an

Illuminated Qur'an page The Hindustan Times announced in January the completion of a hand-written and decorated Qur'an measuring 2.28 meters (90 inches) by 1.55 meters (61 inches).
An Afghan calligrapher has worked for five years to create the world’s biggest Koran, a bid to show the world that Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage and traditions have been damaged but not destroyed by 30 years of war. 
Mohammad Sabir Khedri, the master calligrapher behind the project, worked with nine students on a design that combines gold script with millions of tiny colorful dots, forming highly symbolic decorations around the giant pages.

“I wanted to use as many tasteful colors as possible to make this holy book look beautiful,” he said, standing beside his enormous creation in a room built specially to house it.