Saturday 2 February 2013

The SCUB Manifesto: The C Word reports from a literary hinterland

The C Word has recently taken up membership of the Society for Cutting up Books. No, this is not the militant wing of a dodgy political pressure group, it is a celebration of that Ur moment when exasperation becomes the creative act that results in the taking up of a Stanley Knife to slice through the spine of a very fat book.

Let me explain. Scubbing is the act of cutting along the length of the spine of a large, heavy paperback  - either a normal ‘cheap’ paperback or one of the glossy text-book sort – and dividing it into smaller, lighter sections, thus creating a number of portable booklets rather then one book which is so heavy you can barely lift it off the shelf. The scubbed sections can then be placed in those nice transparent ‘pockets’ with holes punched down the side and placed in a file for safe-keeping. When taking the tube, bus, a train or just for reading in bed, you need take only one of the sections which is light enough to carry. This vastly increases your chances of reading the book, since, in its original published form, it was too heavy to be taken out of the house and too heavy to read in bed. Let’s face it, how many of us lead the sort of life where we can ‘read in the library’ or ‘in the drawing room?’ Quite. Scubbing, in short, is what you do with books which are not available on Kindle. Where art books are concerned, that’s most of them.

The first book I scubbed was Glen Adamson’s ‘The Craft Reader,’ a magnificent book if only one could hold it up longer than five minutes. It seemed particularly appropriate that this should have been the first. Adamson’s book is published in sections (1-7), – all sewn together in one volume – daft, but no matter. It is an anthology of craft writing. Section 1 deals with the ‘how-to’ writing. In his introduction to the section he writes:

            As is obvious from the sheer volume of instructional publications produced annually, most are never put to direct use. Books are given as gifts or bought on impulse, page through and left on the shelf.

He goes on to say that the voluminous heaps of unread literature have an additional purpose to that intended which is to attest to the aspirations and identity of the would-be reader. Bearing this in mind, and considering that I had only just started reading the book, how could I allow myself to leave this book, unread – or at least unfinished- on the shelf simply because it was too heavy to read on the tube? So began my membership of SCUB. That was almost three years ago. Since then I have scubbed a Lonely Planet Guide to Iran, Salman Rushdie’s, ‘Midnight’s Children,’ and now, I’m happy to say, James Joyces’ ‘Ulysses’ has been so honoured – neatly cut into three manageable morsels and may well be cut again if I need to study another section at close range, as it were. (See the The C Word Supplement for more on this – it concerns my next body of ceramic work, Molly’s Odyssey.) So, my aspirations to being a well-read potter, and the instructions in Adamson’s book as to how to achieve that, are now assured. One more thing: The Craft Reader IS a magnificent book. Much has been said already of its vast scope, its richness and its breadth of understanding of what craft is. I will just add it's worth getting for the excerpt from George Sturt's, 'The Wheelwright's Shop,' alone. Read this and weep! And not just for reasons of the writing. The following extract is from Adamson's introduction to the excerpt:

            Sturt had a basic conviction that it was only through direct, physical experience that one could understand workmanship, or even raw materials: ‘My own eyes know because my hands have felt, but I cannot teach an outsider the difference between Ash that is “touch as whipchord”, and Ash that is “frow as a carrot” or “doaty”, or “biscuity”.’


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