Monday, 10 January 2011

Anniversary - and my almost despicable deed


"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth". Listening to the radio yesterday morning, I realised it's 400 years since the King James bible was first published (1611). These words in Genesis 1:1 still reverberate in my mind, as do so many verses and phrases in the bible, even though I am no longer a religious person (but that's another story). I can remember reading endless psalms in Church as a teenager, when the vicar's sermons were particularly tedious and boring. Much of the beautiful and stirring language has remained with me through the years, particularly stories from the Old Testament.

title page from a recent acquisition

It was my great-grandfather (Henry Guppy, 1861 to 1948) who instilled in me a love of books and words. He became librarian of the John Rylands Library in Manchester in 1899 until his death aged 86. He procured for me books for my birthdays and at Christmas throughout the second world war, when they were hard to come by. Natural history and poetry, mainly, all rather too advanced for my then young years, but still a source of joy even now. I suddenly remembered that his speciality was history of the bible and somewhere I still have a copy of his treatise on the classics scholar, Miles Coverdale, who was instrumental in producing the first complete printed English Bible in the 1500s. But I digress; it was the radio programme that brought HG back to mind, and he would be horrified I am sure to know that I now buy old books to rip apart for collage!


an early 1900s bible, bought for 're-purposing', sitting atop my 'junk-journal' on my writing/art desk; on the top is a candle-holder bought in the gift shop at Tewkesbury Abbey. Book and Candle, it only wants the Bell to symbolise ex-communication.

I cannot resist second-hand bookshops and have been collecting 'remainders' or interesting-looking books for as long as I can remember, but only recently to take apart for collage. On holiday in the Welsh Marches a couple of months ago, I walked into a shop the like of which I have never seen before. It was vast, with rooms and racks of shelves from floor to ceiling, and boxes spilling out all over the floor; difficult to step around them. I rummaged about, and then found this old bible, minus covers, stained and somewhat tattered. A little searching on the floor revealed the covers. £10.00 was rather more than I intended to pay, but it seemed perfect for the new journaling challenge I had set myself. I could not find anyone to pay and was on the point of returning the book to the box where I had found it when I spotted a notice - "please pay at the gift shop down the street". Obviously honest folk in this little Welsh town.

But I felt like a thief and not wanting to be accused of actually being one (having numerous bags about my person into which I could have stuffed it), I marched along the pavement with the book held out in front of me as if I was on the way to the stake. Paid, and delighted, I looked for the first quote that I would use on the journal page. And then I had qualms, felt guilty; should I really rip up a bible? It seemed somehow sacrilegious. Should I in fact be tearing apart books that could be re-purposed again and again if I adopted a different procedure? So this is what I now do: I carefully slice the pages apart and scan them, then crop and print the part I want to use on 45gsm layout paper. In a way, my conscience is clear; I have the book (and the scans) to use again and again. Maybe my great-grandfather need not turn in his grave after all. And don't you love the bible's inscription: "Sarah Price, her book. Aged 11, December 1913". Amen.

13 comments:

  1. I know what you mean: it does feel very wrong to take apart a book! But if it's tattered and battered beyond comfortable reading use, what else to do with it? And to make myself feel better, I remind myself that the British Library has a copy of every book ever published. Yes, sadly, even Katie Price's biographies.

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  2. Tonia, thankyou for your encouraging comment. I suppose my problem is this: if I see an old book I really like, it 'speaks' to me in more ways than one, and if I extract some of the text, it's not there for another project. Thus our house is HEAPED - three floors, and a shed - with books; I must aim to let myself go and free myself from this magpie habit.

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  3. O'h but what a wonderful habit, my daughter is the very same,we plied her with books and she at 39 studies and reads daily, our son however at 37 has probably never read a full book in his life,although he was given many books also,isn't it strange the difference.After reading your blog for some time now I believe you are a wonderful chriatian woman, once it is in the bones it stays, we may pull away from church,away from the title "religion,religious"but the teachings of goodness stay forever and I believe you can be like that without preaching and pushing it upon others.You are a delight and a joy and I really get a lot from your blogs, you always make me think.Carole

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  4. A lovely post Ann, it touched a chord with me. . . I'm always struggling with the pile of old books I've rescued, but I must start using them. . .my house is too small for all these books (that's my husband talking!)
    Tewkesbury Abbey is one of my favourites, full of magic!xx

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  5. I wonder what HG would think of Kindles, ipads et.al.!!!

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  6. Looking after books is so ingrained in me, i would find it really hard to make that cut. Also, for me - especially with second hand books like that - it is also the thought of who has owned the book before - who gave it to them or did they buy it - did they love it - etc. But That is me. I bought old woolen blankets to cut up and make into hot water bottle covers, but I cannot bring myself to do it.
    I remember sitting in church and reading all those pages at the front of the bible during the sermons too. xx

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  7. I was the fortunate recipient of a late 1800's bible that was donated to our library booksale. Since it was falling apart, they decided against selling it and gave it to me. I did feel a qualm or two about altering it, but on second thought, realized that the bible is the most published book in history. I decided to give it new life in my collage and assemblage work was a much better fate than if it had just gone into the recycle bin. I am holding on to the glorious gilded leather tooled covers, waiting for the perfect project.
    Erin

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  8. I heard the King James Bible programme, it was real poetry to listen to.

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  9. I can shred up an old whatever book with no problem (once I make sure it's not a first edition or such) but have never even been able to give away the (at this point ridiculous) bibles that have accumulated over the years (various sunday schools and devoted grandmother gifts etc.). They stand guard in nearly every room (no vampires here, I guess).

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  10. I think your solution was perfect, and understand the quandary of taking apart a perfectly good book.I felt guilty using up pages in antique farmers almanacs, for some artwork, and did exactly the same as you. Now, the Almanacs are still intact for some future collector, and I was able to use the images.

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  11. Hello - I noticed Her Majesty mentioned the anniversary of this version of The Bible in last year's Christmas message...never fail to watch her here is Australia..one of my things I must do each year...
    I am lucky enough to own 2 very treasured editions; one was carried by my mother on her wedding day, covered in the same material as her gown, the other is my great aunt's study bible...notes and observations hand written included! Both very precious....

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  12. I understand your dilemma with ripping out pieces of the bible even when you're not a religious person, such as myself. Ripping it feels like destroying an antique...

    Great post..

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  13. I think I have a bible.It has James S Kerr-29 march 1876 in the front of the -in gold! I want know know what bible i have-is it Special Edition,because it has the name and date in it!

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