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Cutting Down The Instructions and a Wilde Diversion

So, I’m reading The Instructions. Only a handful of pages in and I’m excited about the journey this book is intending. I also like the feel of this book. Like other McSweeney’s publications, it’s a beautifully designed item.

Its physicality is the very argument against e-readers. At the same time, the book is staggeringly big:

With my laptop, notebook, and mishmash of teaching materials, it literally doesn’t fit in the bag I bring to work each day. This is, indeed, a compelling argument for e-readers (especially considering that an iPad is a typical component of my daily arsenal).

Did I mention that there is no digital copy of The Instructions? As much as it would make this situation much easier, I like that I have to hold the pages as Levin’s Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee intended.

So I bought another copy.

I bought a copy that was to be slaughtered for the greater reading good. It arrived a surprising, innocent white. And once again I was captured by the intense beauty of The Instructions as Object. I almost turned against my original blue copy until I noticed the strangely askew sticker placement on the back.

And the hacking began.

I first cut the book from its hardcover, and found suitable chapter ends with which to cut the book. Now in five digestible tomes, I can cart the book in fragments.

As I cut into the literary flesh I was reminded of El Gaviero who, in one of his earlier adventures – perhaps “The Snow of the Admiral” – also brought along only tattered fragments of greater books due to size and space. I also drew inspiration from the recent reading of Skippy Dies; the edition I read was spliced across three paperbacks housed in a handsome box, making it ever the easier book to transport. A similar appreciation was felt for the same version of 2666.

Finally, searching for the appropriate places in the text to sever text from text, to create neat piles of books, I scanned the top to see if cutting specific signatures of the book would be feasible. This did not meet my preference for separations at the end of chapters so didn’t pan out. However, I was reminded – in tracing this line of thinking – of a fragment of a literary anecdote: while doing an undergraduate fellowship at the Clarke Library, I was shown a book that was unique in the library not for its content than for its state of being. As one of the foremost collections of books by, from, or related to Oscar Wilde, the book in question (though its name is of course lost to the ineptitude of youthful obliviousness) was a gift from Wilde to his lover at the time. However, after receiving the book, Wilde’s companion rejected Wilde. The book, now owned by the Clarke Library is a treasure in that the top signatures of the book were never cut; the pages could not be opened without these being cut. The book is an artifact of a relationship run stale; Wilde’s gift nothing more than a weighty reminder of a past romance, nothing to be consumed or to even pretend to have opened.

But then comes the spinsterish head of academia: I believe a researcher expressed an interest in reading this particular copy of the Clarke’s collection. Does the library cut open the book for the needs of academia? Or preserve the book’s unrelinquished secrets in the spirit of historical veracity? Honestly, I don’t remember what decisions were made. The story itself comes as little more than a literary reverie.

A diversion, I realize, but one that brings me back to pure fascination of books in their dusty, hefty, and sometimes unwieldy physicality.

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