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Blook, from the looks of it...

Pradeep Sebastian, February 14, 2016 0:09 IST

Second take

in disguise A recipe cabinet and (left) a lighter shaped like books.
I’m sure you must have at some point in your bibliophile life come across an object shaped like a book. It looks like a book but when you examine it, it serves some other purpose, like a miniature book that turns out to be an eraser, or a bookend to hold books, or a purse, even a cigarette lighter!

The first imitation or faux book I came across was in a bookshop that sold, apart from books, all kinds of accessories for readers, from bookmarks to book bags to posters of famous book covers. But amidst all that were ornate-looking books that resembled fine bindings, or could even pass off as jewel boxes. They turned out to be boxes to hold the more precious books in your collection. I bought three of them.

Mindell Dubansky, a book conservationist at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been collecting what she terms “blooks”, physical objects shaped like a book, from medieval times to the present. Her famous collection of blooks is now on exhibition at The Grolier Club, the premier institution for book collectors, and to accompany the exhibit, she has released a book titled Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren’t. For some time now she has been writing about her romance with fake books in her blog.

Her collection includes books shaped after reading lamps, cookie jars, musical cigarette dispensers, a spice shelf and a radio clock. These are only a paltry few in her wonderfully wide-ranging collection of blooks.

Dubansky notes, “All over the world, for hundreds of years, people have been making, collecting and presenting book-objects that reflect their devotion and respect for books and for each other. There are countless examples; they include bars, cameras, radios, banks, toys, memorials, food tins, desk accessories, book safes, musical instruments, magic tricks, furniture and jewellery. Blooks embody the same characteristics as books and many take the form of specific titles and book formats. They signify knowledge, education, taste, power, wealth and more. They have been treasured and passed down through the generations, and many thousands reside in private homes, public and private businesses and in museums and libraries around the world.

Blooks have been used to celebrate and memorialise important occasions and personal losses and successes. They serve as reminders of memorable visits to important places, as receptacles to hold valuable and practical objects, and are the source of great amusement.”

Her own encounter with blooks began in a flea market. She writes, “For years I collected casually, until one day I found a book carved out of coal that was a memorial to a young person who died at the age of 21 in 1897. It is small and fits in the palm of the hand. It was an extremely powerful object; to me it seemed like a prayer book and a memorial book together, a relic of a life lost too soon. The book’s maker used coal, a material that must have been essential to his life and through the making of it, imbued it with all of the love and sorrow they felt over the loss of their loved one. The little book retains those emotions today.

We know that reading books can be life- transforming and the physical book plays a large part in our ability to absorb and be moved or inspired by information, but until I held the coal book object, I hadn’t experienced how an object made in a book’s image can be as transformational and as moving as a true book. I saw that book-objects lived in a parallel universe to real books and that they are also very close in purpose to contemporary artists’ books. I began to look closer at the subject and to research its scope and history.”

In a recent interview to a newspaper, she said, “I see blooks as a parallel to book history, but I’ve had trouble getting people to take them seriously because of the association with kitsch... People have a real love of the book as an object. But what is that connection about? Why do we feel a need to live with books, to have them around? I figured that if I could eliminate the text and collect objects made to mimic the form of books, I could figure that out a little better.”

Surveying her collection has made me more aware of blooks around us that we usually dismiss as too fancy or kitsch. But from here on, I think I’m going to take them more seriously and may even start to collect them!


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