Reading between the (nonexistent) lines

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In many volumes, the meaning of a book comes solely from the ideas conveyed by the printed text it contains, but other tomes invite more interpretation from the reader. Pages in Keith Smith’s Book 91 are punched with holes and woven with string; Jen Bervin’s Dickinson Fascicles features Emily Dickinson’s unconventional and expressive punctuation marks, but omits the poet’s words.

Drawing meaning from just these kinds of books was the topic of Wednesday’s Philip and Frances Hofer Lecture, delivered by Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress. “Form and content comment and reflect on each other,” Dimunation explained, creating a dialogue between object, text, and reader.

Using examples from the collection of the Library of Congress, Dimunation provided a detailed history of the modern artist’s book to an audience of artists, bibliophiles, and letterpress enthusiasts at Lamont Library. Examples included a broad spectrum of handmade books: artisanal editions of works authored by James Joyce and Franz Kafka display their artistry in the care taken with typesetting and binding, while other books express their meaning through form or interaction with the reader.