Scratch ’n Sniff: Books That Engage the Senses
A new exhibition at Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries takes a look at the touchy-feely aspect of books from medieval times to the present day.
Sensational Books, delayed by two years due to Covid, features examples of how we can use sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, and proprioception or kinesthesia – the sense of self-movement and body position – to add extra dimensions to our reading experience.
Among items on show are:
• A page from a fifteenth-century psalter with an illuminated initial showing heaven at the top and the earth at the bottom, complete with marks on the paint that suggest readers used the page like a modern touch screen, ‘swiping’ the soul towards heaven
• A traveling library of 60 matchbox-size books bound in red leather for the eight-year-old Prince Charles in the seventeenth century
• Andy Warhol’s book Index, designed by him in 1967 and published by Random House, which he called a “children’s book for hipsters” featuring a pop-up castle, 45rpm flexi-disc, and a sheet of LSD stamps
• Ben Denzer’s 2018 book, 20 Slices of American Cheese, made from plastic-wrapped slices of said product
• A selection of contemporary printer and papermaker Dizzy Pragnell’s books which are partially made of vegetables
“This exhibition will give visitors a chance to rethink how we interact with books,” said co-curator Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of Oxford. “The joy of reading them is only one small part of how we experience them. It will touch on our ever-changing relationship with printed works, including how modern technology is shifting our connection to them.”
Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, added: “Sensational Books has been expertly curated to bring the public back to the joys of the physical book, and in the challenging times we live in, it reminds us that books are and have always been for everyone.”
Sensational Books remains on view through December 4, 2022.