Yesterday afternoon, in appreciation of an unseasonably warm January day, my better half and I went for a walk on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Heading east on Carson Street past a barrage of bars and nightclubs led us to City Books, a venerable remnant of Pittsburgh’s once lively independent bookstore market. Inside the old shop, a wrought iron spiral staircase punctuates two levels of floor-to-ceiling wooden bookshelves whose old and rare inhabitants speak volumes on an array of subjects that include philosophy, art, science, math, history, foreign languages and vintage fiction for adults and children. A little schmooze with the owner, Edward Gelblum and his elegant assistant whose name I did not learn, was intriguing enough to provoke my tentative climb up the spiral staircase to inspect their impressive philosophy, science, foreign language and Judaica collections.
Their intimate knowledge of such collections within this timeless, musty ambience reminded me of an Imaginarius post of December 19, 2010, written upon completing the third drawing in my Codex Gastropoda series, ‘The Unbearable Slowness of Reading’. You can access that post here:http://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/codex-gastropoda-3the-unbearable-slowness-of-reading/
During this little reminiscence, which inspired the new drawing above, I began to think beyond the act of reading; beyond the physical properties of books to their metaphysical attributes. Does their power to manipulate our minds and hearts come from our literal interpretation of the words, from the images they may contain, or from the associations and ideas inherent in both? Despite the proliferation of electronic media, there is a magnetic attraction to words and images on paper that I can’t trivialize as a mere Luddite denial of technological reality.
Though the written word bound in book form has been likened to ‘conversations with great minds,’ etc., I wonder whether books can be more accurately perceived as vessels made to contain the power of alternate realities? Does encoding these realities in language and 2D images make them more approachable? It seems to me that even if these ‘realities’ could be experienced directly with all ‘six’ of our senses as the human modus operandi, we would still be overwhelmed. The ‘arcane’ technology that enables cinematic ‘reality’ via animation/CGI effects has brought us closer to a total sensory experience. Even so, marvelous as it is to watch movies like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ , we are served generous helpings of the detailed, brilliant imagination of others with little left for our own to play with. Maybe this is why the power of books to evoke and provoke our own emotions and memories remains its own distinctive experience. It is also why I think that bookstores will never disappear completely; despite the fact that the majority of Mr. Gelblum’s sales originate online. Just as great food deserves to be presented beautifully in a warm and welcoming environment, so does a warm and inviting shop remain necessary to contain and disseminate the literary treasures that continue to define us.
Note: Codex Gastropoda #7 is available as a gicleé print at: http://www.magiceyegallery.com
Tags: bookmark, Books, Calligraphy, codex, compass rose, elements, eyes, gastropoda, hands, leather-bound, mollusca, moon, night sky, philosophy, quill pen, seashell castle, snail, snail shell, stars, vintage book