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Book of Hours: A Wordless Novel Told in 99 Wood Engravings / Edition 2 available in Paperback
- Pub. Date:
- Porcupine's Quill, Incorporated
Temporarily Out of Stock Online
In the Book of Hours, award-winning wood engraver George A. Walker creates a modern-day, secular devotional that captures in narrative imagery what is too devastating for words: the individual moments of innocence and routine life that ended with the onslaught of 9/11.
What People are Saying About This
The delicacy and intelligence of George Walker's print-making seems to have come to us from a bygone age. Fortunately, we have George with us now.
Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman
9/11 split our world in two: the world before the attacks and the world after. This wordless homage is a marker in time; it is not a critique of the tragedy, but neither is it complacent documentation. There have been other earthshattering events in our history: the sinking of the Titanic proved false the assumption of technology's power over nature, while the atomic bombing of Japan shook our understanding of war. In this same respect, the events of September 11th, 2001 changed dramatically our sense of Western security. The victims of 9/11 were confident and faithful in their daily routine, without any reason to expect the impending devastation. They were neither fearful nor suspicious. They were unprepared and how could we expect them to be otherwise?
The Book of Hours takes us from September 10th, 2001 until the morning of September 11th. The reader follows the office workers as they go about an average day, drinking coffee and answering phones, waiting patiently in traffic to return home to their lovers. This is the moment I wish to capture: the mindset of the unprepared. Most of us live our lives innocently attached to daily routine and immersed in familial concerns. There are few other ways to live.
Although politics is often the focus when thinking about 9/11, the issue of innocent life lost leads us deeper into the problem of who is responsible. 'Why?' is the dominant question when we are faced with the inexplicable. There are many explanations for why the Twin Towers fell, but few of them relieve our anxiety. We wait in fear for a political solution to the threat, and we wonder if one will ever be negotiated. We cannot tolerate a police state, yet it seems like the inevitable result of ever-increasing security measures. The Book of Hours reminds us that there is a human cost to every political decision.
Other artists like Goya and Picasso have used political anxieties as topics for their work, but what sets the Book of Hours apart is its lack of words and its sequential narrative. I was inspired by the work of Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward and Otto Nückel; they, too, struggled with similar injustices and documented their world in a narrative of images. No words can describe 9/11's devastating impact and transformative power in our collective consciousness. Imagery is a universal language that crosses national and linguistic boundaries, and the woodcuts specifically recall a time before the phrase '9/11' had any meaning, even though that time is now irretrievable.
The text is called the Book of Hours because it is, largely and also paradoxically, an exploration, condemnation and celebration of our culture's devotion to time and the way our regimental routines can both reassure and also strangle us in tumultuous times. In the fifteenth century, a Book of Hours told the devoted when to pray and what to say in their prayers, but today our book of hours is unwritten and is made up of our daily routine of work and play. Many of us, like the people in this book, follow the prescribed eight hours of work with weekends off. We make our way through the hours of the day without expecting the routine to divert from its path, without really knowing such diversion is even possible. It is time that prevails as the longest distance between two places, whether it is 102 minutes or 99 images, or before and after 9/11; and the experience of time is always different than its measure.
Having grown up on a rural farm town in Ohio, I attribute my love of books to the weekly visits from our county library's bookmobile. My interest lay in the comic books and illustrated books published by Landmark Books and the Illustrated Junior Library, which were always tightly arranged on the shelves in the juvenile section of our stiflingly hot bookmobile. I grew up in a culture where the written word, not pictures, opened the door to knowledge. Although there was occasionally an illustration on the dust jacket of a book from the adult section, the pages inside were always restricted to text, and picture books were not for adults unless they were art-related or cartoons. After spending some time in the bookmobile, I soon concluded that reading books with pictures signified childishness or poor literacy.
By the time I entered high school, I obsessively perused stacks of books in my school library. Occasionally I came across books for adults with illustrations, like the outstanding volumes by the Limited Editions Club and the Heritage Press that commissioned famous artists to illustrate literary classics but these books were anomalies. I remained perplexed as to why there were no picture books for adults. Were they designated only for children? I had resigned myself to this unfortunate fate when, by unexpected chance, I discovered in a used book store a 'novel in pictures,' by the Belgian artist Frans Masereel, called Passionate Journey.
This narrative, told entirely in woodcuts, detailed the life of a young man living in the early twentieth century. Scenes of lovemaking and impetuous adventure, meant to snub the hypocritical culture around him, were depicted in simple black-and-white prints with dimensions of 3 ½ x 2 ¾ inches. Immediately I felt a strong affinity to Passionate Journey's hero. Can you recall moments from your own life when you discovered a startling connection between your personal feelings and thoughts and another person's, real or imagined? A connection that astonishingly illuminated your own sense of self?
I continued my search and quickly discovered additional wordless books by artists such as the American Lynd Ward, who, like Masereel, explored some highly-charged political and social themes in our Western culture. Although the majority of wordless books were mainly published in Europe and the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century, there continued to be a few distinct titles published in subsequent years.
As I uncovered these wordless books, my own culture started its infamous shift, in the late twentieth century, away from the written word and towards the use of images in communication. Our descriptions of and reactions to events began to align more closely with images, largely due to the increasing affordability of such technology as the television, personal computer and cell phone. Information delivered in a visual form gradually became the norm. Today there is even a language of pictograms, created as a universal language for instructions and directions, and which continues to grow in international use.
As our technology heralded the reign of the image, wordless books for adults appeared more frequently from the area of graphic novels, by recognized comic artists like Eric Drooker and Peter Kuper, and from the artist's book a movement that began in the late twentieth century in which artistic expression was delivered in book format. Book artists specifically involved in creating wordless books were often printmakers committed to the revival of the production of books by hand, from cutting blocks to printing by hand on handmade paper in small editions. I soon made contact with many of the recognized artists in this field, including Babette Katz, Barbara Henry, Jules Remedios Faye, Christopher Stern, Rebecca Anne Blissell, Brendon Deacy, Olivier Deprez, and, more recently, George A. Walker.
I first encountered Walker in 1994 when I noticed his contribution in Crispin and Jan Elsted's remarkable edition from Barbarian Press called Endgrain: Contemporary Wood Engraving in North America. I later discovered selections of Walker's wood engravings in The Inverted Line and Images from the Neocerebellum, and learned that he shared my passion for woodcut novels from his fascinating Introduction to Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels. In addition, he has shared his knowledge and techniques as a wood engraver and book artist in The Woodcut Artist's Handbook: Techniques and Tools for Relief Printmaking, which is a thoughtful and invaluable resource for anyone interested in this type of printing.
As exciting and interesting as I found these books, I was immediately delighted when I read an advance copy of the Book of Hours: A Wordless Novel Told In 99 Wood Engravings. Up to that time, I had not seen an extended wordless story by Walker. I immediately recognized the title the Book of Hours as a tribute to Masereel, whose woodcut novel, Passionate Journey, had originally inspired my interest in wordless books and was, coincidentally, first titled My Book of Hours.
Walker has given a face to the men and women living in New York and working at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center during the day leading up to the attacks on September 11, 2001. Walker captures various people and events in prints at various times during the day, involved in many of the activities that many of us experience in our own lives: driving to work, riding the subway, answering a phone, working on our computer, enjoying lunch with friends, walking home in the rain, watching television, or making love in our bedroom. By focusing on the people prior to the attacks and representing a commonality of routines and actions, Walker's book ultimately binds us together as a community, a nation and a world. This thread of commonality and our emotional reaction, knowing the ensuing casualties, suffering, and loss, does not need any written explanation.
Walker presents a catastrophic moment in American history in his simple and skillful use of images and the Book of Hours generates a heartfelt surge of emotions without any need for words. With this noteworthy contribution, Walker joins a rich tradition of artists determined to express their ideas in pictures and to make their ideas available to everyone, regardless of language or level of literacy.