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A garden carried in the pocket

Reading Copy, the AbeBooks.com blog, recently posted a link to a wonderful gallery of end papers hosted by Nancy Stahl.

house of pom end papers

The end papers collected here are fascinating and lead to all kinds of imaginative speculation about the books they come from. In fact, this gallery got me thinking about book decoration in general.

There is a long history of decorating books in a manner that either compliments the contents or is simply, well, decorative. Methods of book decoration have included illumination, fore-edge painting, marbling and a multitude of artistic binding techniques.

Today, there are even radical artistic experiments like these utterly incredible Book Autopsies.

Artists are drawn to enhance or comment on books, both because of, and in spite of, their contents. I believe that books are the closest McLuhan-style technological extension of the mind of man. In The Gutenberg Galaxy McLuhan posits that the invention of communications technologies such as moveable type and the printing press accelerated cognitive changes. McLuhan’s theories reverberate with the thoughts of tool use expounded on by evolutionary biologists. Did our use of tools accelerate our early evolution? Did we make the tools, or did they make us? Artists are drawn to books because of the interiorized, intellectual and conceptual worlds they can both contain or represent; regardless of their actual contents.

There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like: a book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

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