Beat Book Collection

Although different from previous blogs, I wanted to allow my final blog to be a bit more personal. For my final Book Beautiful book collection blog, I hope to highlight the texts that I find most influential to my own life. Although this gathering may not be the ultimate for most collectors, what follows is a collection of texts that represent the Beat Movement which found its fame primarily during the 1950’s. As an English major, books of all makes are anything but unfamiliar, whether mass produced or a limited edition, each providing a unique twist on form. Just as changes in printing technology during the industrial revolution changed the world of book making, the generation of Beat authors so too changed the world of literature as America new it. Like so many book enthusiasts, the Beats felt marginalized by the mainstream of society and detail the angst of cultural change their work. Though these books may not be the most expensive, wrapped in vellums, or even hand crafted in some cases, they mark a significant turning point for American literature. Since book making and writing go hand-in-hand, these novels so too challenge the standards expected of printing given their time. Be it Kerouac’s burst of energy that created the scrolls for On the Road or the variations of order presented by Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, these novels not only challenge the norms of traditional American literature but pushed the limits and challenged the functionality of printed text.

My Collection:

For more information on these texts, please visit my collection at Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog


Memoirs of a Beatnik – Diane Di Prima, Olympia 1969

As many of the Beat authors faced issues of censorship, this account of a female artist coming to terms with her sexuality and intelligence was met with much controversy. During this time, the field of literature, particularly literature involving sexual promiscuity, was male dominated. Here she is able to “raise her rebellion into art” in a tale of courage and imagination.

Chronicles Volume 1 – Bob Dylan, October 5, 2004

Although it may come as a surprise to see Dylan on the list, the songwriter shared many themes with the Beat authors, in fact befriending Ginsberg and Kerouac, two of the movement’s most key figures. As many of the Beat authors borrowed from musical forms, the Beats too influenced musicians. Dylan published his memoir recently, demonstrating the still thriving interest in the movement and those involved.

Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness – Bob Kaufman, 1959

Highlighting influences of jazz and lyrical poetry, this collection of poetry includes odes to Charles Mingus, Hart Crane, Ray Charles, and Albert Camus, early influences for many of the Beat authors. Like Di Prima, Kaufman joined the Beat movement as one of its later members.

Collected Letter 1944-1967 – Neal Cassady, Penguin 2004

With more than two hundred letters to Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, and other major influences of the Beat generation, this collection covers Cassady’s life from his early days in college to married life with Carolyn. Edited by Dave Moore, this collection presents a candid look at the life of one of the Beat Movement’s most influential forerunners.

On the Road – Jack Kerouac, September 5, 1957

Quite possibly the most well-known of any Beat generation author’s work, On the Road details the many trips taken across country by Kerouac and his muse Neal Cassady. Originally written in a stretch of three weeks, the novel was originally written in the form of a scroll.


(Jack Kerouac with the original scroll)

The First Third – Neal Cassady published 1971

Published nearly three years after his death, The First Third was one of Cassady’s final novels. In fact, Cassidy wrote “Seldom has there been a story of a man so balled up. No doubt many readers will not believe the veracity of the author, but I assure these doubting Thomases that every incident, as such, is true” for the jacket cover of this book just four days before his death in 1968.

Howl – Allen Ginsberg

One of Ginsberg’s most prominent works, this edition was popularized as pocket poetry, a thin edition of text suitable for travel and on-the-go reading, demonstrating the versatility of the bookmaking process and the potential to adapt the functionality of books in particular situations. This text constitutes one of the most important and well known works of the Beat Movement.

Naked Lunch – William Burroughs, 1959

An unusual survival guide, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch details the life of a junkie during a time in which drug use, especially to the extent seen here, was rarely discussed. This novel helped to redefine American culture, influencing music, film, and various other facets of the art community. Since publication, Burroughs has asserted that the novel can be read in any order, despite the order each vignette appears as printed.

Off the Road – Carolyn Cassidy


A Memoir, this novel follows the life of Carolyn Cassady and the twenty years that she spent with several of the Beat generations most prominent contributors.  The text includes numerous pictures in both color and black-and-white which, along with the text, provide an in-depth and personal analysis of the major Beat authors.

Blues People – Amiri Baraka

An analysis of the cultural significance of African American music in a Caucasian dominated society throughout history. A legendary Beat author, Baraka was a founding member of the Black Arts movement which stemmed from the movement brought forward and popularized by the Beat generation.

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Though most may not consider book collecting an art, there remains an element of the individual inseparable from their collection. Be it a well invested assembly of rare editions or shelves of assorted literature picked from yard sales and bargain shops, a collection may be valued for its monetary worth or significance to the collector.  As book collecting is, either way, a highly personal experience, book collectors and enthusiasts alike seek ways to distinguish their novels yet incorporate them into their new collective. To do this, most design bookplates, a page tipped into the front cover with glue to signify the owner. These bookplates often signify as much about the collector as the collection does itself. In anticipation for our task of creating an ultimate dream collection for class and in the hopes of one day establishing a substantial collection of my own, the bookplate below was designed, depicting a representation of myself blowing smoke through a coffee ring.


As an enthusiast for Beat literature and an avid coffee connoisseur, this both represents my interest in literature as well as the activities I enjoy in my personal time. In creating this, any book added to my collection will be embellished with personalization that will set the collection apart from others while signifying that each book is part of a larger whole. Limitless in possibility, these fancy identifiers are one way book collecting transcends typical expectations of a hobby, verging on an art as beautiful and unique as the book itself.

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The Making of “Tor-Till-A Mockingbird”

ed book 3 

“Nothin’s real scary except in books.”
―  To Kill a Mockingbird

As Harper Lee wrote this line over fifty years ago, I doubt she realized then that her work would one day inspire a celebration of written word entirely crafted of tortillas. Likewise, upon initiating work on our edible book for this year’s annual Edible Book and Tea event, my partner Emily and I had not realized how true this statement would become. The idea began simply, to create the pages, binding, and cover by baking tortillas that have been coated in cinnamon sugar so that the book looks as if carved from a tree. Seemingly straightforward at first, a sample run of the bookmaking process quickly revealed the worry that the book may not be large enough to supply everyone at the event with a taste of our creation. Our original solution to this problem was to use bird-shaped cookie cutters to punch out mockingbirds that could be dipped in either fruit salsa or chocolate mousse. Surprisingly, no local retailers possessed the cutters we desired and the project appeared to be at a crossroad. While taking inventory of the wares available at a local crafts store, Emily and I sought ways in which we could work around this and stumbled upon a wooden cutout. With knowledge of printmaking and printing as well as illustrative techniques common to typical bookmaking, we adapted these practices to fit functions of our own. The cutout was both sprayed over with food coloring and stamped to leave imprints of the bird.

edible book 1

The first few runs certainly required tweaking, however, as the process continued, the book began to come together, Emily and I working efficiently as if one machine. What seemed at first to be a simple project, create a book made of food, was perhaps the most eye-opening experience so far in the course. As we were unable to utilize normal bookmaking technology, our knowledge was not only tested in deciding which techniques would be feasible for the project but also in that we had to bend those processes to fit the materials at hand. This is all said with the consumers in mind as well, having to create a novel that is both visually stimulating while simultaneously delicious. Below, the recipes for each aspect of our book are listed along with simple directions. Once you get a taste of Tor-Till-A Mockingbird, you can forget that bird you killed, because your sin will be gluttony.

Pages, Binding, and Cover:

There were no exact measurements here. Coat the tops of as many tortillas as you wish with melted butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar to taste and bake at 375 degrees for 5-8 minutes.

edible book 2

Don’t Kill My Mockingbird Fruit Salsa:

Again, measurements of each may be adjusted to fit the number being served. Dice assorted fruits (we chose strawberries, kiwi, and nectarine) then cover with sugar to taste. Let sit in refrigerator overnight.

Atticus’ Famous Equality Mousse:

Empty contents of one pudding cup into bowl and add Cool Whip to taste. (Not quite real mousse, but awfully delectable.)

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Pushing Boundaries

esther scroll video

(Click to see video of Esther Scroll)

Book artists have survived in some form since the creation of printed text. As previously investigated, different cultures have continuously sought new forms of paper to improve printing quality. The Chinese utilized assorted fibers and bamboo, Europeans realized the potential of wood based pulps, and since the creation of paper, it has been rolled into scrolls, pamphletted in volumes, hardbound, and velummed. What makes a book an artist book is that the aesthetic is somehow out of the norm, reinvented or manipulated to serve some greater purpose related to text, reader, culture, or combination of all three. As with any art form, advancement is preceded by experimentation, pushing the form past normative boundaries to expose the capabilities of structure. The Esther Scroll is ornamented and protected by an equally decorative case, perpetuating the importance of an individual connection to the story through its intricate details despite the rather public intent behind the use of the text as it serves as symbol to the Jewish faith. Book art has excelled in recent generations. As a response to the “perfect” system of bookmaking, artists now seek ways in which to rebel against the faultless precision of machine. As we prepare for our edible book event, I am reminded of the detailed process necessary to produce such works of art. The creation of any text, be it ingestible or not, requires creativity and perspective, siphoning through ideas to find the best fit that embellishes the message of the text while illuminating and adhering to some aspect of form.

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What’s in a font? That which we call a type by any other name would read as sweet. Right?


Font can be an easily overlooked source of beauty when discussing the aesthetic beauty of books. Although we may call it a text, I venture to say that few people actually take the time to investigate the typeface with which they are interacting. Each typeface has its own unique qualities to fit certain functions be it spacing on the page or easy flow for the sake of legibility. Since the invention of moveable font used for printing in China, type setters have frequently sought new methods through which they may perfect their art. Original block templates were carved of wood, an obscenely expensive set for an ordinary printer in China during the time of its origin. While the process of creating typefaces continued to progress it was not until Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype machine in the 1880’s that setting type joined the automated reality of the Industrial Revolution. The creation of specific and creative typefaces has incurred as result from this milestone in printing. The font used in English and American Literature: Studies in Literary Criticism, Interpretation, and History required a bit of research to attempt to determine given the wide array of possibilities. EF Century Old Style first appeared a likely candidate as examples of the type demonstrated similar serifs to the characters my book. Further investigation however proved that  Morris Fuller Benton’s EF Century Old Style was most likely not created at the time this book was first published.  A second match was later located and appears most promising. Monotype Old Style, created in 1901, just a few years before publication of my own text, shares the most similar qualities to the typeface used to create my book. A standard copy, designed in mass for distribution among college students and aficionados of literature, the book was printed by machine in what then seemed an uncertain time glowing of possibilities brought forth with the improvement of technology. With each stroke of ink, these pages represent mankind’s pursuit to balance art and advancement in a subtlety that is dictated by both the tools at hand and the culture for which their work is produced.

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Thin by Demand, Beautiful by Resourcefulness


A book of elegies somehow seems fitting when discussing the bookmaking process in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. With skyrocketing populations, and of particular importance the literate population, production rates for all sorts or goods fell prey to the mounting pressures of refinement fueled by a mass of consumers. From rags of textile to straw, paper makers had often sought methods through which to perfect their trade. In the early 1840’s, paper divined from the pulp of ground wood was made possible by an invention of Saxon Friedrich Gottlob Keller. Further progress continued to be made in the paper production process well into the next century in which the entire procedure became automated. The rise of industry and capitalism set the demand and rate of manufacturing in America and Europe. To enthusiasts of the trade and lovers of hand-made paper, the cultural shift toward industrialization may have appeared the end for fine products. Naturally, however, many artisans remain that employ conventional methods, although editions of print intended for mass consumption remain to be constructed via machine. Though we may now live in a digital era, paper endures as a necessity, providing solid documentation, each sheet and blade of ink a history all their own, unmatched by screens and pixels. The methods of the past may seem stone-age to some, but the aesthetic beauty of paper is most pronounced in its limitless possibilities. May it be made of wood or wool, shaped as planes and accordion dolls, or sketched with masterpieces, maybe just Dear Diary, paper endures as a symbol of versatility and durability as well as an essential facet of life and expression.

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The Industrial Boom Creates a Bind for Fine Book Makers

Although long past, humans still today are adapting to the changes ushered forth with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. As the world shifted toward the pursuit of technology, old ways of binding prior to the 19th century gave way to more productive combatants that could more efficiently supply the growing demand for books as literacy rates increased. David McConnell Smyth played a pertinent role in the development of automated book-making technology, starting with his sewing machine designed for binding in 1868 and following with decades of machinery manufactured to hasten other facets of the process. While perfect binding did exist at the time English and American Literature: Studies in Literary Criticism, Interpretation, and History was printed, the technique was rarely used for another 30 years, during which time the majority of books remained hardback editions.

Those who outlived the industrial boom of the 19th century now seek to reconcile art with consumerism. Although books had previously been handcrafted, each element of the text handled by specific artists with a set range of skills, the balance between supply and demand caused concern to shift from craft to cost. While several artisans still remain and uphold the traditions of personal craft, volumes of work such as an encyclopedia like this are beyond the scope of their abilities, unable to provide such beautiful masterpieces for satisfactory mass distribution. This is not to take away from the majesty of those books that are produced in a more rapid fashion. While books such as this may not receive as much personal detail in the threading of their spines, publishers remain aware of the importance of aesthetics, employing decorative papers, cloths, and leathers to flirt with the consumer as they peruse the store shelves.

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