Chronicling the life of a book
June 4th, 2008
“Shelf Life,” by Adrian Tomine, from the February 25, 2008 cover of The New Yorker
Only a writer (or possibly an editor or book-seller) could appreciate the ironic narrative played out across the nine frames of cartoonist and illustrator Adrian Tomine’s spot-on perfect cover for The New Yorker earlier this year.
Yup. It starts with an author, toiling away at her laptop, alone in her little office. Nothing but a cup of coffee (tea, in my case) and a bare window to stare out of when she is searching for the correct word or phrase. Next, we follow the further adventure of a book’s life: When the agent presents the wonderful, finally-completed manuscript to the editor; when the editor gives it a thumb’s up; when the book is printed and bound (probably in Taiwan); when the bookseller displays a stack of crisp, fresh-smelling, just-published books; when the beloved customer first buys, and then actually sits down to READ it.
But then, as is depicted in frame number 7, we arrive at the waning years of a book’s life. The period of time from a book’s conception through gestation to its birth may seem to drag on forever, folks. Yet the final days of a book’s life can occur at lightening speed, as is witnessed here. Perhaps its owner needs to “simplify” or “clean up the clutter,” thus: the tome is set out on the curb in a cardboard box filled with other household discards. But someone reaches for it. Has the book gained new meaning? A new purpose? Yes, indeed. That hard-back cover and high-quality paper makes for great kindling on a cold night. As it burns away in a metal drum, in a desolate urban alleyway or corner, perhaps this frame can be described as “book cremation.” Its ashes live on. Somewhere.
My friends Robyn and Don framed the cover, entitled “Shelf Life,” as a gift commemorating the publication of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. Along with other dear friends, they signed the huge white mat-board that surrounds the artwork, wishing success with sentiments like:
“While you have always impressed me as a ‘can-do’ girl and accomplished your goals, this tops the cake – Stylish Sheds is a Big Deal!” (Robyn)
“Cheers to your biggest, best and brightest, with many more to come. Can’t wait!” (Braiden and Spencer)
“You’ve always been the ‘bright’ light in our neighborhood, but baby, you’re on ‘fire'” (Don)
The print is now hanging in my office, a tribute to the highs and lows of this rare creative process, one that’s still steeped in something more tangible than letters appearing on a flat-screen monitor.
But how do others see the product of the heartfelt efforts to which Bill Wright and I devoted several years of our lives? It’s a useful tool, all 224 pages of it, according to my blogging friends. Here are two observations. It’s pretty funny when you think about it. The life of a book. I’m happy mine gets around, even in nontraditional ways:
Lydia Plunk, whose blog A Very Good Life is all about living, gardening and loving her Southern California backyard and home, used Stylish Sheds as a distraction during her exercise routine (see her photo above). She posted a shot of the book, resting on the handles of her treadmill. In her May 17th blog-entry, entitled “Perspiration and Inspiration,” Lydia had this to say:
By slowing the pace, the layers of visual pleasure are better appreciated for their individual flavor components. That is why Stylish Sheds became my companion on the treadmill the past few weeks. It was a delightful companion, helping make the road back to my pre-accident self enjoyable. . . . Perspiration mixing with inspiration, I began to re-imagine my own shed. Using the matrix Debra used as an executive summary for each project, this is how I plan to make the highest and best use of my own shed.
Mission: My shed is the playhouse I always wanted, but growing -up never had. Think denim and lace for style. The shed serves as a big treasure chest of the parts for the hobbies integral to my lifestyle (doesn’t that sound so much better than “storage”)? Started with great intentions, it is in need of tlc. . .
Daniel Mount, a gardening and writing pal in Seattle, confessed to NAPPING with my book (see his photo above). In his May 26th blog-journal entry, entitled “A Nap in a Shed,” Daniel had this to say:
I decided to treat Memorial Day as at least a half-holiday and left Michael out in the garden planting and came in to the house, on a sunny day no less, and napped and read. I read Debra Prinzing’s Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. I had already wandered through the pictures several times, envious and awed at what passes for a shed these days. Many were better than our house. But it was Debra’s writing on the subject and the inspiration she found when visiting these sheds, that caught me on fire.
I always though of my suitcase as my home away from home. But as I get older and travel gets more expensive, I realize the necessity of retreat space in my own back yard. Well now I have a back yard. Of course living in a flood plane makes siting such a space complicated, but Michael had the idea for a tree house high above the floods grasp, where we could monkishly retreat together or separately and leave the messy kitchen, the paper work and the shovels behind, without getting into the truck. . . Maybe you will start to dream about a shed of your own, too.
I have to admit, reading as a prelude to napping is one of my very favorite activities. Just ask the males in my family. “Mom’s napping,” is an oft-uttered Sunday afternoon phrase around here. So of course, I love the image of Daniel, sprawled out on his sofa, with this book propped up on his chest, alternating between snoozing and dreaming about the future incarnation of his backyard treehouse-shed! I also love the image of a slim, trim, healthy Lydia, jogging away on her treadmill, her imagination miles away from that grind as she mentally redesigns the storage shed for a more personal expression of her design style. The creative mind doesn’t stop working, even when the body is sweating!
I’m so curious to see what other activities this book inspires. What other “chapters” it lives, all before landing in someone’s bonfire as a source of heat. For now, one of the best uses seems to be stashing Stylish Sheds inside a one-gallon zip-lock bag (to keep the soil off the cover) and taking it with me to the garden! That’s what I’ll be doing this summer.