Monday, November 22, 2010

The Book of Beginnings and Endings

I had a hard time coming up with a book to feature as the book of the month for the student services blog this month. Because I used The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa last month (see post) I couldn't justify fiction for November. I had two books checked out because they sounded interesting (one was a comparative cultural history of dreams, another about women in the Middle East), but when I started reading them I found them less than compelling. The newer nonfiction titles I thought would be perfect (like The Emperor of All Maladies) weren't (yet) part of the libraries' collections.

I had another idea. I wanted to feature The Book of Beginnings and Endings, but I couldn't find the book on the shelf. Now I can't recall how I came across The Book of Beginnings and Endings, but the description I read somewhere was compelling enough to make me dig around in the stacks on numerous occasions over the course of the month searching all the logical places the book could have been misfiled. Eventually I admitted defeat and brought a print-out of the book's catalog record over to those more familiar with the collection than myself. Guess what? The book was in the stacks on the shelf where it belonged, it had just slipped behind the other books housed on the shelf.

The Book of Beginnings and Endings: Essays
by Jenny Boully

Poet and essayist Jenny Boully is known for her eloquent and innovative writing. Her 2002 The Body: An Essay, for example, consists only of footnotes, leaving the body of the text to the reader's imagination.

The Book of Beginnings and Endings is compromised of twenty-six essays. Each is two pages long: the first page is a beginning and the second, an ending (the final page of the narrative), the middle (the bulk of the text), left out. The beginnings, however, don't always seem to match the endings leaving the reader to wonder whether they are the first and last pages of two different works.

This all sounds quite complicated, but in practice it is both strange and beautiful much like the image on the book's cover (a photograph of White Cabinet and White Table a sculpture by Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, held by MoMA). While the book can be seen as an author's exploration of form and of what it means for something to be complete, reading The Book of Beginnings and Endings is a very personal experience. The beginnings and endings highlight the missing middles and the reader doesn't interpret the text so much as imagine it.

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