Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Books, Altered Books, And Temptation

The novel, narrated in the first-person by 18-year-old Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, tells the story of the Blackwood family. Merricat, her elder sister Constance, and their ailing uncle Julian live in a large house on large grounds, in isolation from the nearby village. Constance has not left their home in six years, going no farther than her large garden. Uncle Julian, confined to a wheelchair, obsessively writes and re-writes notes for his memoirs, while Constance cares for him. Through Uncle Julian's ramblings the events of the past are revealed, including what has happened to the remainder of the Blackwood family: six years ago both the Blackwood parents, an aunt (Julian's wife), and a younger brother were murdered — poisoned with arsenic, mixed into the family sugar and sprinkled onto blackberries at dinner. Julian, though poisoned, survived; Constance, who did not put sugar on her berries, was arrested for and eventually acquitted of the crime. Merricat was not at dinner, having been sent to bed without dinner as punishment. The people of the village believe that Constance has gotten away with murder and the family is ostracized. The three remaining Blackwoods have grown accustomed to their isolation and lead a quiet, happy existence. Merricat is the family's sole contact with the outside world, walking into the village twice a week and carrying home groceries and library books, where she is faced directly with the hostility of the villagers and often followed by groups of children, who taunt her.

Merricat is protective of her sister and is a practitioner of sympathetic magic. She feels that a dangerous change is approaching; her response is to reassure herself of the various magical safeguards she has placed around their home, including a book nailed to a tree. After discovering that the book has fallen down, Merricat becomes convinced that danger is imminent.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”
by Shirley Jackson
at Wikipedia

I hate that. When the book I’ve nailed to a tree
falls down, I mean. It’s so tempting to drill through
the book and use a wood screw and a washer
instead of nailing it up through the binding
but the damage done by pounding in the nail
through the binding and pages with a hammer
is all part of the magic, the whole new world
created by nailing the book to a tree.

If you call this kind of thing an “altered book”
and if you can work in the word “upcycling”—
I mean, if you can do that with a straight face—
you could probably teach this as a workshop,
some kind of new age spirituality.

Those things don’t seem to go together to me,
making a business out of magic, I mean,
if you have to struggle to keep a straight face,
no matter how tempting the money might be.

I mean, when something gets nailed up to a tree.

It seems okay to get paid for writing, though,
even if the words get published as a book—
I guess what would be called an “unaltered” book
nowadays, like the books Shirley Jackson wrote,
like her, “We Have Always Lived In The Castle”—
but that’s something I can do with a straight face
without even struggling. I mean, I love books.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Altered Books
at Wikipedia

at Wikipedia

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