Pet Book #3: Scrapbooks

When I first started thinking about ways to relate my Pet Book to scrapbooks, I’ll admit that I was totally at a loss. After all, how could a novel made up mainly of just words on a page relate to the eclectic works that are scrapbooks? I scoured the internet searching to see if Kingsley had created a scrapbook that he kept as a reference when writing, as Garvey states that many authors would do, but came up empty-handed. The key to relating the novel to scrapbooks, then, is not to think of how the book is a scrapbook but rather how the book could become part of one if someone who read it enjoyed it enough to take a pair of scissors to its printed pages.

Though Kingsley’s book is very text-heavy, it also features a variety of illustrations throughout the work meant to illuminate a specific scene from the text. Garvey writes that early nineteenth century scrapbooks “referred to portfolios of drawings, or collections of prints or silhouettes” (p. 15). Looking through my Pet Book, I can’t help but wonder if at some point, a reader loved a particular image so much that they cut it out and pasted it into a scrapbook that they were creating. Would Kinglsey’s story then change as a result because it had lost an image? And what, if anything, would their scrapbook gain? The hypothetical scrapbooker would become both an author and an editor, in a sense, if they chose to clip from Kinglsey’s work and paste it onto the pages of their creation. Much like Mark Twain’s 1877 scrapbook that bore his name but whose contents could be rearranged by the owner, this idea of taking words or images from a book (rather than the typical medium of newspaper) and creating something wholly different but also eerily similar bears heavily on the idea of scrapbook creators as authors.

We can relate this idea to the commonplace books of the Renaissance that Garvey brings up in her writing. These books, she explains, serve “some of the functions of both the bookmark and the bookwheel. Instead of simply marking a place, it makes a new book of other people’s writing” (p. 26). Originally in class when we discussed whether taking another author’s work and rearranging and compiling it makes one an author, I disagreed. However, looking through the lens of scrapbooks, I think my original disagreement can be flipped as I find that the more I read about scrapbook compilers, the more I think of each one as an author of something unique and entirely ‘theirs,’ even if the words that they are using aren’t. If a reader took Kingsley’s Water Babies and completely cut it up by chapters, paragraphs, lines, or even word by word, only keeping their favorite parts and maybe even adding in sections from other works that they had similarly cut up, the result would be an entirely new book with an entirely new story. Maybe in their version, Tom never drowns and becomes a water baby, or maybe he becomes a water baby and decides to never leave their world; the possibilities of what someone can do with a pair of scissors are limitless.

One of the roots of scrapbooking is to take a text or image and make it your own in some way. The idea of “writing with scissors” and thinking about scrapbooks in tandem with novels gives us a unique way to talk about authorship. Garvey states that when making their commonplace books full of clippings from other works, “the reader becomes an author” (p. 26). In the same way that Kingsley wrote Water Babies, scrapbook creators write their own stories when they take pieces from other things to create something entirely new. Though the words on the page may belong to someone else, the stories that they can ultimately tell are entirely the creation of the person who put scissors – and glue – to paper.

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