Modify an Old Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

In Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the title character is an unidentified man whose only link to his past is an old book he used as a notebook / commonplace book:

She picks up the notebook that lies on the small table beside his bed. It is the book he brought with him through the fire—a copy of The Histories by Herodotus that he has added to, cutting and gluing in pages from other books or writing in his own observations—so they are all cradled within the text of Herodotus. (p. 16)

And in his commonplace book, his 1890 edition of Herodotus’ Histories, are other fragments—maps, diary entries, writings in many languages, paragraphs cut out of other books. All that is missing is his own name. (p. 96)

This month’s exercise is to use the English patient’s book as inspiration.

Step One: Find an old book to repurpose. I suggest starting with a used book that already has some scuffs and scrapes so it doesn’t feel too precious to modify.

If you don’t want to use a book you already own, look for a suitable book at a used bookstore (check the discount bin out front) or charity book sale. Tip: library book sales often sell hardcover books for $1 or less.

While you can start with any book, a copy of a favorite novel, a nonfiction book whose subject is interesting to you, or one with aesthetic appeal (but perhaps less-than-interesting content) are good options.

Step Two: Modify your book! You can play with the existing text or treat it more like a blank journal.

Some suggestions:

  • create found poetry using the existing text
  • paste in photos, clippings, tickets, etc.
  • doodle or draw
  • add patterns or color
  • write notes in the margins
  • journal between the lines
  • fill in blank pages
  • write an alternate ending or add a “missing” chapter
  • add a character
  • modify illustrations/photographs
  • dry leaves or flowers between the pages

Step Three: Continue until your book feels finished. Use your book as a source of inspiration for your writing—both during the process of creating it and afterward.

[Page numbers from the 1992 Vintage edition.]

Journaling

Absolute Blank

By Lisa Olson (Boots)

I had written this fabulous article about how to show and tell in writing, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. In light of the terrorist attacks in New York, I’d like to talk a little about journaling instead.

Overwhelming, confusing, and highly emotional tragedies are a good time to return to your personal journals, or to start one. The blank pages can become a therapist, a confessional, or a padded room. It can become a source of strength and solace as you pour out your anger, your grief, and your questions.

Journals aren’t only for moments of crisis that come from the world around us. Personal tragedy, personal triumph, and even personal growth are all welcome in the pages of your journal or diary. There is no subject that is off limits, no language barriers, and no points taken away for misspellings, bad grammar, or sloppy handwriting.

It doesn’t matter what your journal looks like. It could be the back few pages of your phone book, your word processor, or a fancy leather-bound, gilt-edged tome from Borders. As long as there is paper and you have a pen, you have a potential journal.

When you have some words on the page, add a few pictures. Sketch a memorable moment, or cut out your newspaper headlines and photos, or copy and paste off the Internet. Make a whole collage to express how you felt at this moment, on this day, about this issue or event.

The most important thing you can remember about a journal is this: Unless you say otherwise, the remarks and content are only for yourself. Don’t be afraid to lock, hide, warn off, password protect, or just NOT tell anyone what it is. Just write it all down. Save your feelings and you’ll thank yourself later.

I have three or four pages about the Gulf War in an old binder. My children were babies and I was terrified they would grow up in a world of war. The thoughts on those pages aren’t pretty and they make little sense. If anyone else read them, the garbled messages would confuse them. It’s pure feeling in written form. And I felt a lot better after I vented on the page.

Journaling is a personal and expressive way to open up the feelings you have inside. I urge everyone touched by the immensity of this event to take a few minutes (fifteen, even!) and share their emotions with their future selves.

~Boots

Some technical notes and ideas:

Microsoft WORD users can copy and paste pictures as well as text within their documents. Simply right click on whatever picture you want to put inside a document, choose “copy” or “copy picture”, return to WORD, place your cursor where you’d like the picture to appear, right click and choose “paste” or “paste picture”. There are function short-cut keys for both copy and paste at your disposal in the usual tool bar, as well.

You can insert pictures from a saved file by using “INSERT” and then “Picture” and either “from file” for those on your computer or “clipart” if you’d rather use Microsoft Clip Art ones. If you choose “from file”, be prepared to dig through the files on your computer to locate the correct picture.

Once you have a picture in your document, you can move, shrink, etc., by double clicking on the item.

For WORD users: To password protect your file, simply choose “File”, “Save As” …then choose OPTIONS (before you save the file). Choosing OPTIONS will allow you to set a password for the document down at the bottom of that screen.