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UPDATED: Graduate students curate HRC exhibit featuring ‘glamorized’ books

Posted: December 31, 2010
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“Please take a moment to judge these books by their unique after-market covers,” reads the main label of “Pimp My Book,” a new Harry Ransom Center exhibit curated by Associate Professor Janine Barchas’s fall 2010 graduate seminar students.

“Pimp My Book: a brief history of the customized reading experience” features books, from medieval manuscripts to modern novels, that have been aesthetically enhanced by their readers.

With jewels, velvet, leather, or ink, readers’ post-market adornment of books has persisted for centuries. According to the main label of the exhibit, these literary accoutrements “can create a sensory experience that complements, critiques, or even contradicts the words within the covers.”

In E 384K, “Graphic Design & Literary Text,” Barchas and her students delved into how this technique, along with other “non-verbal, or paratextual, elements of a literary work (layout, punctuation, front matter, title page, illustration, footnotes, mise en page, etc.)” affects literary study. By the end of the semester, Barchas’s students had mounted “Pimp My Book” on the second floor of the HRC, in the lobby of the reading room, where it will remain on display until the end of February or the beginning of March.

Barchas recommends taking the time to check out the exhibit. “All of the items are visually quite striking,” she said.

UPDATE: Click here to see a slideshow of the exhibit on Cultural Compass, the HRC blog.

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The full text of the exhibit's main label:

Pimp My Book: a brief history of the customized reading experience 

Long before viewers watched Pimp My Ride or American Chopper—in fact, long before the combustion engine—readers personalized, customized, glamorized, and just plain peacocked their books. Whether encrusted with jewels, adorned by portraits of queens, or scribbled upon with ballpoint pens, the books displayed here demonstrate post-market enhancements, or “pimping,” as a recurring phenomenon in book culture across centuries.  These volumes embody fantasies of transformation through the act of dressing-up.  Our story of the custom book starts with medieval illumination, a process which pimped a book on the inside.  The remaining books mediate our relationship with the text through their covers. 

The warmth of red velvet, the chill of a silver hinge, the sparkle of precious jewel, or the smell of fine leather can create a sensory experience that complements, critiques, or even contradicts the words within the covers.  Using these diverse materials, as well as techniques from inlay to Cosway, these covers make statements, sometimes even jokes, about their books’ contents.

Please take a moment to judge these books by their unique after-market covers. 

Curated by Janine Barchas’s fall 2010 graduate seminar, English 384k: Graphic Design & Literary Text: Lynn Cowles, Colleen Eils, Jennifer Harger, Brianna Hyslop, Aaron Mercier, Michael Quatro, Robin Riehl, Jessica Shafer, Connie Steel, Laura Thain, Joanna Thaler, Jay Voss.

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