Cover to Cover of You

*This was originally a little paper I wrote for class, but I put a little twist on it. Hope you enjoy!

After hearing Sandra Kroupa’s talk with my class, where she said she “never defines the word ‘book,’ I am beginning to rethink how I myself define a book. Kroupa further opened the possibilities by introducing artist books, which completely reshaped the way a “book” is thought of and used. Artist books go beyond the paper and ink of our standard books and re-purpose them to be just as much a part of the story as the text itself. The physical object, then, has just as much to say in the story and actually adds to it. Artist books incorporate the reader, involving them in the unfolding and telling of the tale. I wanted to take this idea even further and create my own definition of what a book is: A book is a vessel for a story.

A book is something that carries the story. Most of us would think of bound paper as the vessel and a collection of words, usually unified and ordered somehow, as the story. But to think this way is very limiting. Vessels are all around us and can be anything. In the same way, stories make up everything and have many forms beyond just writing. Spoken stories flutter from the mouth of someone, unbound, and if impactful enough will make their home in the hearts of whoever listened; a story without a vessel. This approach to defining a book asks you to open your mind to finding tales in odd places, to creatively thinking about the world, and experiencing the power and beauty of stories in a new light. Once you embrace this you will begin to see “books” and “stories” all around you. 

Furthermore, this drastically broadens what can be considered a book. The artist books make things like a pack of cigarettes, a blouse, a board game and so on, all vessels that add to, and play a role in sharing the story. It is imperative that whatever the vessel is, it accepts that it contains a story and becomes part of it or else it does not work as a book. Even the books made of paper and ink do this. The cover usually has a picture, a title, excerpts, and quotes all of which point to the book embracing that it contains a story. 

You might be saying well then, by your definition everything is a book. In some ways I am. However, I am not saying that all these things that can be defined as a book, a vessel for a story, should be read as a book. My definition defines it as a vessel for a story, not a vessel with a story. You see, there needs to be some intentionality behind the vessel, a main purpose to serve the story. I believe that every vessel can have a story, for example a coffee mug with some writing on the front and a chip out of the top lip… is it a book? Well if the definition was a vessel with a story then yes. That chip, the writing across the front, the coloring and stains all point towards a story if you’re willing to let yourself be creative. However, is it a vessel for a story? Well, no. The primary purpose of a coffee mug is for drinking coffee and not telling stories. 

This definition of a book is quite radical. It is asking a lot of a person to think of books in this way. But I truly believe that wrestling with this idea will be interesting and expose you to a much more vivid and interesting world. Stories make up so much of what it means to be human. That’s why my favorite books are people, and the stories of their lives. We are all, as human beings, a vessel with a story. Things like fear and control keep us stuck trying to cross out old parts of our story, or trying to write ahead, go our own way and deny who we’re meant to be. Deep in our souls we feel our identity that has been divinely placed there, giving us purpose. We feel the burning of our story etched in our heart giving us passion for what we were created to do. The people who choose to serve their story, to embrace it, and be a vessel for their story begin to relinquish control of the pen and live in the current unfolding of their beautiful and intriguing life. Truly leaning into our stories has the power to inspire, connecting us to others while highlighting how unique we are. The true gift of embracing our story, however, is the freedom that comes from giving up the burden of control, and the love that is revealed for us in each and every moment from the Writer who is so, so good.

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