The Garden: A Garden Alphabet, compiled by John Harris, alphabet drawn by David Coster, for the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Garden Exhibition (Gloucestershire: Octopus Books Limited, in association with Edgeworth Press, 1979)
Extreme Golf: unusual, fantastic and bizarre courses by Duncan Leonard (Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2004)
Vixens of Vinyl by Benjamin Darling (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001)
Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One by Lillie A. Faris (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Co., 1925)
Madam Red Apple by Mary Graham Bonner, pictures by Janet Laura Scott (Springfield, Massachusetts: Milton Bradley Co., 1929)
Golf: A Turn-of-the-Century Treasury by Mel Shapiro, Warren Dohn, Leonard Berger (Secaucus, NJ: Castle, a division of Book Sales Inc., 1986)
A Movement Approach to Acting by Nancy R. King (Englewod Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1981)
That Provoking Puppy (Springfield, Massachusetts: McLoughlin Brothers, 1926)
Floyd Clymer's Scrapbook of Early Advertising Art by Floyd Clymer (NY: Bonanza Books, 1955)
Complete Life Drawing Course by Diana Constance (NY: Sterling Publishing Co., 1991)
Portrayal/Betrayal by Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2012
The Art of Photographing the Model, text by Bron Kowal, featuring the photography of Peter Barry (NY: Crescent Books, 1984)
"The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov" by Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. by Hannah Arendt, trans. by Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken Books, 1969)
"It is, however, characteristic that not only a man's knowledge or wisdom, but above all his real life--and this is the stuff that stories are made of--first assumes transmissible form at the moment of his death." --Walter Benjamin
"Death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell." --Walter Benjamin
This book was made in memory of my father, William Davies King.
Long and sad story here. I had meant to give this bibliolage to my father as a present, though as I got into it I kept realizing that it might really confuse or even annoy him. His health was failing fast. Not a part of his body or mind was functioning quite right, and the old spirit was not often in him, the spirit of a jokester with a generous, affectionate heart within.
That heart gave out, here at home, on the way to the garden, in Canton. Or maybe it was his brain or his lungs or his guts or his willingness to live. Probably all. May 20, 2013. At the age of 89.
Not a thinker, though smart in many ways, not a gifted athlete (golf, ping pong, etc.), but always game to play, not a strong believer, but in awe of the glories of life (plants, animals, children, music), he and I did not agree sometimes. Politics was hazardous territory, and “art” named two entirely different realms for us. We thought each other odd, but all of that was secondary to love.
The lineage from him to me was unmistakeable. He held me close, as a father should do, and I held him close, too. The resistance, the counterforce, which we always knew, had to give way to the embrace, owing a lot to his effort—and mine. From the time I went away to school at 13, I called home every week, sometimes more often, if only just to mouth the expected platitudes about everything being “fine,” even when they were not always. And I hardly ever missed in the rhythm of regular visits, though we each found the father-son thing a bit of an ordeal.
My mother, who died two and a half years ago, got it that I had fallen further away from the values of family, Ohio, the GOP, and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church than my brothers, and perhaps she even understood why. She also had her issues with Dad, but they were overwhelmed by a mighty attachment. She gave me my melancholy, my quiet sympathy, my attraction to the written word, my capacity to be alone, and my taste for the past. Dad’s eye was always on the present or the future, like anyone who cultivates the risqué.
The art of bibliolage plays with those divergent tenses. Books from the past, each a lonely guardian of bygone effect, suddenly open their arms to new interaction, fresh attention. And by “fresh” I do mean that motivated stare or the pinch on the butt that could get your cheek slapped in films of the thirties or forties. So yes, bibliolages are books that, invigorated, now risque.
I was initially looking for safe ground to hyperilluminate for him, and initially I thought the place was to be the golf course. I found Extreme Golf, which delighted in such things as golf courses in Iceland, Dubai, or alligator country. But the perspectives in those pictures I found too limiting, too many distant aerial shots, too many par fives for me to hit the green. So then I came up with The Garden, the sort of book I can’t imagine anyone reading, and even the browsing of the pictures might narcotize. Especially in his later years, Dad took more joy from gardening than anything, and he took joy in many pastimes and involvements.
He also loved golf, not that he was an expert or even very good. He loved it as “the most maddening game ever,” and yet he was skilled and practiced enough that each round brought some little miracle of execution. He watched the tournaments on TV, bought the weirdly deviant men’s outfits in colors that would make the Easter bunny cringe, and kept his clubs in the garage, ready for the public course or the neighbor’s back yard.
Sunday took him to church, where he sang like an angel in the choir, and attended occasionally to God. Actually, he taught Sunday school when I was a preschooler, nudging his teenagers to memorize all the titles of the books of the Bible. His mother and father were the kind who read only books about the power of Jesus, and so Dad’s drinking of the Episcopalian punch (the Perfect Manhattan) was an outrage, one that he kept well covered until they passed away.
During the months I was working on this bibliolage, I heard more and more of his fundamental despair. Someone whose whole life was so dedicated to living well felt betrayed by any divine force that would bring that to an end. The sonorous phrases of the Book of Common Prayer, the ones that had never quite penetrated, now had no power to turn back the sad reality that his body just wasn’t going to take it any longer. In his many days, he had incinerated enough tobacco, tipped enough bottles, and fully inverted the food pyramid, so that it was a wonder he had made it so far. But, except for in the music of Bach or the books of Nicholson Baker (in my opinion), wonders will ever cease.
So fallen divinity occupies a curious corner of Dad’s garden, trampled by the golfer, and overwhelmed by the vixen’s parfum. “Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow.” The present probes the future for its soft and slippery spot. It’s all good if it’s all hilarious—and gratifying. That’s what I mean by my self-mocking “risqué.” Because this was, on one level, Dad’s bibliolage, but it’s always mine.
Yes, here we get into the unmentionables, the ridiculous dangling part of a man. Dad’s humor went there always, though whether it came back, who knows? That whole category—the X-file and all its documents—should never even be breached by the son. And I’m not opening it here, except in collage.
Dad died with A and B by his side. It’s a long story, but briefly, A and B were people who were glued in to his life in the last decade. He did the gluing, they did the gluing, and glue did the gluing. All in all, the passive voice works best: they were glued in. Cut from another book entirely, one you would not expect, they augmented and enhanced his life, and they ironized and carnivalized his life, and they reaped and they sowed, cooked and mowed, and altogether handied the man.
The family might sometimes seem a closed book, but it’s easily reopened, and there are scissors and glue at the ready to make the old book bulge with new intent.
I miss you Dad.
The coolest thing—perhaps the only cool thing—in the bedroom I shared with my brother Andy was a large, wire-frame, rotating book rack. This was exactly the sort of device you would find in a dime store or Walden Books to display “supermarket novels.” Actually, all sorts of books were published as pocket books back then, even “school books” like The Leatherstocking Tales and Captains Courageous, but mostly I associate these racks with Harold Robbins, Clive Cussler, and Rex Stout, the range of authors favored by my parents. Our living room and family room had ample built-in bookshelves, but these were filled with hardbacks, including my Dad’s outdated medical texts, my mother’s English lit anthologies from freshman year at Denison, and an array of biographies and inspirational texts, most of them gifts from long ago, either read or probably not read then shelved to give the impression of “family library.” This library might as well have been painted trompe l’oeil on the wall for all its non-use. The reading that was, in fact, a constant factor in my parents’s lives came through those Dell or Bantam paperbacks, which were thick to begin with but bulged to near-cylindrical form after successive readings on the backyard chaise or in the bathtub. Their once-glossy covers would be station wagon-scratched or coffee-stained as if in mockery of the smoking guns and loosely draped peignoirs that signified sensation. These “throw-away” books were stashed in any old cabinet or closet and eventually taken to the public library for disposal as toxic waste. Eventually, though, some came to occupy this rotating book rack, which was mine.
The coolest thing—perhaps the only cool thing—in our garage was a go-kart, which came to us as a Christmas present when I was in eighth grade, Andy in sixth, and Peter in fourth. I guess we were all deemed old enough, on average, for this blow-out gift, which sadly was sort of ruined for me because Dad had the flu on Christmas eve, and so Mom had to ask me to help her retrieve the go-kart from the neighbor’s garage to be placed under the tree for a morning surprise. I knew at once, on first seeing it, that, though it was a gift for us all, it would be a supreme treat for Andy, whose temperament aligned with speed and excitement, and I would be left to find a more mature way of enjoying it in order to assert my proximity to adulthood. Peter would have to find his own way to claim some ownership.
I took the motor end, and Mom took the steering end, and we carried the go-kart across our snow-draped lawn as quitely as possible so that Andy, who was in bed, would not peek out the window and get a glimpse of the quantum leap he was about to experience in the harldy noticeable pleasures of growing up in the suburbs of Canton, Ohio in the mid-1960s. The little car seemed huge in the middle of the family room, and it drew the heat into its frigid frame. Dad came down from the bedroom, and his eyes gleamed, more from thrill than fever, at the sight of the gift he had picked out for us—for him. Painted solid blue, with stubbled tires designed for traction, it stunned the earthen tones and wood surfaces of the family room, as if taking charge of this staid environment.
Indeed, Andy lifted off the ground with excitement upon seeing it the next morning, and so the warm, gift-giving, coffee-cake-and-bacon, new-socks-and-sweaters atmosphere of Christmas morning had to shift outside. The smell of gasoline, the strenous pull of the starter rope (which Andy came to call the skladdy-addy-acker), and the rattle of the unmuffled two-stroke motor breathing fire introduced what seemed like a newly discovered fundamental force into the air. No one had shoveled the driveway yet, so the first run of the go-kart was through fresh snow, a world so white and light.
Soon, though, the driveway was packed down into a swirling figure-eight track, and we took turns driving to the street, then back. At the top there was room to slam the wheel abruptly to one side or another, leaving the rear end to skid into a drift. By the end of the day, after we had figured out the trick of opening the governor so the motor revved even higher, after we had refilled the gas tank repeatedly, and after all our cousins and some neighborhood friends had taken their many turns, one wheel skewed crazily to the side from all those skidding stops. In one day—what a day!—our go-kart was busted.
An educational experience it was, of the best sort, because early the next day Andy tackled the question of how to fix that wheel, and he turned to me and Peter, Dad, anyone, to come up with a solution. It turns out adult things can be fixed, not like plastic toys or balsa wood, rubber-band airplanes. Mechanical means of repair exist for the grown-up world, and this go-kart crossed into that realm. But every foot put down in the adult world in Ohio has its cost in the recurrence of boredom as an absolute, as if to say enthusiasm must die. Within a week, even Andy got to the point where a day or two might pass without firing up the old engine.
One Saturday that spring, Mr. Getman, headmaster of my school, asked for my help in transferring the library from the old school building to the one that had just been finished. Fresh library shelves were waiting to receive all the books we stuffed in boxes. The paint was perfect, the carpet as if untouched, and there in the middle of the space was this wire-frame rotating book rack. It had looked fine, I suppose, in the battered old building, but here it seemed wrong. Mr. Getman said to me: “Let’s get rid of this.” Timidly I asked if I could have it, and he said, “Sure thing,” so it was mine.
I had gotten to the school for this volunteer work on the go-kart. Our house was about a mile away, and it suited me to pull out this vehicle for the commute. I had grown accustomed to taking the go-kart for “a drive,” not to spin out in daredevil stunts but rather to mimic a grown-up excursion, using the sidewalk as my road. No one ever walked on those sidewalks in our suburb, except to push a lawnmower. People had then already begun to move away from life in public, life out of doors, and so the neighborhood was like a movie set on which I could act the role of motorist, doing some errands. The journey to the new school took me a little beyond my usual range because one street went through an area just then under development, and so there were no sidewalks, but after all, I was twelve, nearly thirteen, I could handle the newly paved road.
Mr. Getman expected me to call my mother and ask her to bring the Oldsmobile Vistacruiser, in the back of which the book rack would easiy fit. I allowed him to think I would do so, but instead I wrestled it to the sidewalk where I had parked the go-kart. The rack stood probably five feet in height and about a yard in diameter, and it was old and well-built. Probably some store like Kobacker’s or Kresge’s had used it for decades and then donated it to the school when they went bankrupt. Its thick base was an inverted saucer of solid steel, so that all the books would not make it top-heavy. It had little slots where words like “crime,” “romance,” and “self-help” could be inserted.
I believed that I could deliver this thing by myself. Since the rack was as long and as wide as the go-kart, I had to balance it on the motor at the rear and hold it above the semicircular steering wheel up front. I would scrunch down in the seat, steer with one hand, and with other clutch the rack overhead. What a thrill to find that it was possible, and I could manage it, so I set out for home in a state of elation and pride. Along the way, I grew so confident I picked up the speed a little from an initially cautious pace. At last, on the final block, after having crossed all intersections with care and after drawing a few stares from passing motorists, who must surely be admiring my accomplishment, I pushed the gas pedal to top speed. But then some bump in the sidewalk or a gust of wind or some fatal flaw in me lifted the book rack out of my reach. I looked back and saw it bounce and roll like a beer can on the freeway. I stopped the go-kart and ran to the rack as if to catch its dying words. It lay there on its side, inert in a way that negated its rotating function, but seemingly spared of any damage. I started to lift it up, which involved embracing its empty form, but then I saw one of its lower corners had smashed, and I knew I would never be able to put even one book in that compartment.
My mother was not pleased when, pushing the go-kart rather than driving, I rolled into the backyard and showed her this monstrosity. When I explained that it was to go in my room, the room of Andy and me, she could hardly say no, though she had always managed every decorative detail there, down to the posters on the wall.
After I got it upstairs and in place, with the help of Andy and Peter, we then had to gather books to put in its slots. Our copies of Inherit the Wind and Spy Vs. Spy only filled maybe half the rack, so we delved into one of the cabinets where the used supermarket novels were kept, and soon the device was full, and it rotated perfectly. It was so solid you could get it to whirl without destabilizing, and it dominated the room, making a new and different sort of library.
In times of boredom and self-isolation, I would retreat to my bedroom and sometimes peruse the rack, if only, initially, just to appreciate how well it turned, not withstanding one smashed pocket. But some other impulse led me now and again to plunge into the lurid depths of those novels, there to encounter violence, deceit, and lust. The book jackets promised that I would be glued to my chair, laughing my head off, riveted, or that city streets would be mean and pages steamy. I learned that my parents went elsewhere in their minds when they picked up these books, and that meant I could go elsewhere too.
In the spring of 2013, forty-five years later, I came home to that same house to visit my father, who was suddenly falling off the cliff of old age. Mom had gone down a couple years earlier, and Dad had insisted with all his might on remaining in the old house. I helped out in what ways I could, gave him company, and tried to grasp at bits of what I would soon lose. He would go to bed right after dinner, and that left me much time alone. In those hours, I browsed the old built-in bookshelves, rediscovering the stale theology and unreadable gift books that had not budged in forty years. But now I had a new eye for forgotten old books because I had picked up the craft of what I call bibliolage—the cutting up of from two to twenty books in order to condense them into one composite volume, a collage in book form, like this one. There’s a whole story of why I developed this art for myself about fifteen years ago and how I have evolved it though those years. For now, I’ll just say that it serves a variety of emotional needs, extensions of the feelings I explored in Collections of Nothing, and the products curiously express me well enough. To my parents, or at least my Dad, who had trouble with my candid self-exposure in memoir, the bibliolages were a much more acceptable mode of self-expression. When he visited, he would look long and carefully through my most recent creations, and he didn’t say much about them, but I think he recognized something of the elusive me in them, something he would not have seen otherwise.
The practice of bibliolage gives me an appetite for old books, especially of the sort that are “nothing” enough I won’t mind cutting them up. I went through Mom and Dad’s books in search of material, and I found a book about Indians from Mom’s childhood, a book of Bible stories that my grandparents gave me, and a coffee table book about the history of golf, one that Dad, who loved golf, would not have read if it was the last book on earth.
I also delved into the cabinets and closets where the recent supermarket novels were stashed. The old rotating book rack, like the go-kart, had been discarded not long after I went away to college, when the trundle beds in our old room were replaced with twin beds to make it a proper guest room. But the cabinets and closets yielded dozens of cheap novels by the most recent crop of thrillers, like Steve Martini and Tom Clancy, and sexed-up heavy-breathers, like Nicholas Sparks and Jackie Collins. The covers of these more recent books jump out in luminescent colors, with embossed images and cut-away windows, screaming for the attention of an over-saturated market. The spies and detectives are even more hard-boiled and the female forms more porny, and so the imaginary excursions of my octogenarian father had gone even more radically elsewhere. As had mine.
In those long and lonely evening hours, after Dad had gone to bed, I started cutting things up with the idea of making a bibliolage for him. I thought the book might say to him some of the things I was finding it difficult to say to him directly, namely that I understood that much I knew about myself had come in some way from him, that our humor and fantasy and anxiety and awe had kinship. My life had several times tumbled out of my grasp, like the book rack dashed on the sidewalk, and the trajectory of my careering life had gone in a different direction from his, but he had been thrown too, more than once. Whether I could contrive a bibliolage to capture and say all that was unlikely, due to the limits of both my talent as an artist and Dad’s ability as an interpreter. But I could try, and the result would at least be what it was.
Unfortunately he died before he saw this book: Floyd Clymer’s Extreme Garden Golf Vixens. Also, fortunately, he died before he saw this book. He might have seen it as some kind of defamation, and it is a scandal—a snare, a stumbling block—to good taste, orthodoxy, and rationality. By that sensible definition, it oughtn’t to be, but life is a miracle, and the collision of two dissimilar cells brought about the being of me—and of him. So I offer this book as a memorial to his existence and my own. Like most memorials, it is a gift where none is demanded, so it is a gift to the giver, a testament to the one who remembers, not to the deceased. May he rest in peace, and meanwhile I’ll do the rolling over in the grave.