If you are not a book artist or a collector of rare books, chances are that in your bookshelves there will be very little else than industrially bound books, with a spine at which a stack of pages is held together. You can leaf freely through these pages. This book form is very useful for dictionaries, as the book can easily be opened at any position. But despite its overwhelming presence (and usefulness), it is not at all the only form a book can have, and it is not in all cases the best to use.
This is the second blog post in a series about my latest work “346. A Journey While Staying As Still As Possible”. It is a piece of book art about my several week hospital stay in 2011 while I was pregnant with twins. I entered hospital in gestation week 21 in early labour. They told me that the most likely outcome was a miscarriage the same night. The babies had a life expectancy of 30 minutes after birth at this stage. They gave me a valium, put me on a reclined bed to take the pressure off the cervix, and told me that if I felt something that was even remotely like my water breaking I should ring for the nurse immediately because it was quite likely that the first of the twins was born before anyone could be with me. – Good night, best would be to sleep, try to move as little as possible.
Yeah… I didn’t sleep awfully much that first night, despite the diazepam.
From this onset it should be very clear to the reader: the book will end with the birth of the twins. The question and moment of tension is: will I remain pregnant for long enough for them to live?
It is what most people immediately ask me when I tell them about the book: “What about the twins, did they survive?” – and I imagine that readers might want to skip forward and read the end first. – I don’t want that to happen. I want the reader to experience some of what I experienced: this strange mixture of boredom while waiting hour after hour, day after day, and the constant tension about what will happen at the same time. Psychologically it’s a strange thing, to wait so long for something awful to happen, to think that any minute it could be the end, both of this awful waiting (and I wished for it to end at times), and of the idea of having these children. Because you make room in your head and in your life for these two, the idea that there might be no-one there in the end to occupy this space seems almost absurt. Still it is something you are told to expect any minute.
Of course a reader can’t really experience that by reading a report, but I definitely wanted to keep them from skipping forward.
That’s why I had a scroll in mind from pretty early on. Of course you can fast forward a scoll, just skip over parts of the text. But you would still have an impression of what comes in between, an impression of length, and also it takes more effort going back and forth, and thus it is maybe more discouraging to do it. And so I started to investigate different types of scrolls. In my research I learned about panoramic scrolls and crankies. The structure for both is the same: both ends of the scroll sit on a dowel each, and both dowels sit inside a box. By cranking one of them, a different part of the scroll can be seen either on top of the box (if the scroll goes out and back in) or through a view top.
Reading a story like this you are forced to be very much in the moment; you can’t see much of what is coming, which is good, and I liked the idea – until I realized, that it not only rids the reader of “knowledge about the future” it also eliminates memory of the past.
And this thought lead me right to the form that the book has now in the end: only the end of the scroll sits on a dowel that sits within a box, a cylinder to be precise. The other end has to be pulled out by the reader to see more of the story.
This cylinder keeps the reader from knowing how much more is left on the scroll. So when it looks like the birth is progressing, there is no “surely this must be a false alarm (again), there are just too many pages still left in this book”. But while thus the future remains hidden, the past can be seen very well, day piles upon day upon day the paper spilling out and piling high while you read on.