I was horrified one day when my sister did publicly what I usually do privately. She sniffed the pages of a book she had picked up at the library. Both of us seem to share a love for books. Not just for the written words but the make up of the book itself. We skim the pages with our fingers as we read. We look at each cover, each spine, literally getting a feel for what the tome will contain inside. In my case, I think my love for the book as object has a lot to do with being an artist. Artists develop a love for materials, for the physical presence of paint, wood, canvas, ink, graphite, charcoal, etc. But this desire to want to handle books is more than that.
I trace it back to our childhoods, my sister’s and mine. Besides books being refuge, they also provided, I should say provide, a form of what a psychologist may call mirroring. In the pages, in the smell, in the colors or the type are presences that I can examine undisturbed: attention is brought to them and I am rewarded with a form of love. Speaking of love…
I prefer the sort of love that is not messy. I find drama to be wasteful. Yelling is verboten. My idea of love is akin to my mothers’ constant pronouncement that children should be seen but not heard. So, love for me means internally keeping a constant vigil of longing. This is quite easy to do. I just don’t allow myself to desire too much, but I do allow myself to desire just enough. For each person this is of course defined differently.
This long preamble is a way to introduce my love of sketchbooks. Sketchbooks seem to define bibliofeelia best. They provide the inner workings of a creative mind in tangible, loving, deeply personal ways. Take the sketchbooks of Derek Jarman as discussed and illustrated in the beautiful Thames & Hudson production edited by Stephen Farthing and Ed Webb-Ingall. Jarman would buy several books at a time. These were beautiful to begin with. But, as an indication of his subversive ways, he would put a layer of paint on each sumptuous leather cover before using the book. To someone with my level of repression this is tantamount to sacrilege, but it fits in perfectly with Jarman’s work. There are pages filled with photographs, feathers, dried flowers, printed ephemera, and shells. But what really brings these beautiful books to life, and into our hearts, is the excitement displayed in the writings and drawings. The marks themselves are alive. This is true for Jarmans’ marks as well as within the writings of others, which he has pasted onto his pages. We become aware of the filmmaker’s money woes, his health concerns, and his relationships with people in his immediate community. The sketchbooks show a man deeply involved with the world, and the people around him. He is influenced by them, as well as the great artists whose works he encountered, including Caravaggio and Goya.
What a privilege to examine this man’s warm and creative mind in one of the most personal ways possible. Pure, unadulterated bibliofeelia, without any mess or fuss. No gloves required.
An informative video about the sketchbooks themselves: Inside Derek Jarman’s sketchbooks