DEFINITION OF AN ALTERED BOOK

    Any book, old or new that has been recycled by creative
    means into a work of art. They can be ... rebound, painted,
    cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed,
    rubber stamped, drilled or otherwise adorned ...

    Altered Books are a librarian’s worst nightmare., pierced, and torn
    pages can be painted, collaged, stamped, and written on.  
    Elements in pages can be manipulated and popped out in all
    directions.  Objects can be glued, stapled, sewed, or tucked into
    various folds and pockets, and blocks of pages can be glued or
    wired together to make carved windows, niches, and boxes, and
    even small drawers made out of matchboxes.

       But what separates altered books from scrapbooks and
    collages – and, in my opinion, makes them particularly exciting as
    a pedagogical medium -- is the relationship of the visual elements
    to the text of the original book.  Text can be hidden by collage
    elements, and those same elements can be used to isolate and
    highlight particular pieces of text.  Pages can be painted except for
    masked elements.   Sometimes a single line or two of text
    provides the inspiration for an entire collaged image.   Other times
    the page becomes an interpretation of a poem or passage.  And
    sometimes new text is added.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ALTERED BOOKS  
        Because of the labor-intensity of the materials used, many of
    the earliest books are altered books.   When Greek scribes
    washed, scraped, and resurfaced pieces of parchment to recycle
    the expensive animal hides, traces of previous text often bled
    through, creating what we call a “palimpsest.”  

        Several different traditions came together in the Victorian period
    to set the stage for the modern altered book.  Since the 17thC,
    commonplace books -- collections of favorite sayings and
    sometimes impromptu drawings inscribed by friends and
    acquaintances -- had been popular. (They continued to be popular
    with the Bloomsbury set; commonplace books were published by
    E.M. Forster, and Leonard Woolf as well as Vita Sackville West)  

    The Victorians expanded the visual and decorative range of this
    idea by creating scrap albums of pictures, often cut from store
    catalogues.  You may have thought “clip art” was an invention of
    the computer age, but Victorian stationers sold “scraps,” sheets of
    pictures which could be cut out and put in albums, much like the
    stickers of today. Sometimes Victorians bought special albums,
    but often they pasted their scraps in existing books – much as the
    character in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient gradually fills
    his Herodotus with images, poems, notes and other memorabilia
    of his life.

         The modern altered book has two parents. The first is a leader
    in the Book Arts movement of the 1970’s (The Center for the Book
    Arts was founded in 1974), the British artist Tom Philips, who in
    1966 bought for thrupence the Victorian novel, A Human Document
    by W. H. Mallock ,  and began transforming it page by page into his
    own A Humument, selectively painting over the original text to
    create his own poetic, gnomic tale, complete with characters.  A
    founding work in the genre now called Artist’s Books, A Humument
    continues to be a work in progress, with new pages added every
    year.

         The other, less legitimate, non-academic, and mostly female
    parent of the altered book is the contemporary craft interest in
    stamping and scrapbooking, which has ballooned in the last 3-5
    years into a major industry, moving from the aisles of Michaels into
    Target and Office Depot and even the local grocery store shelves.  
    in 2005, a televised tour of the national craft vendors show
    pronounced altered books the hottest new trend in scrapbooking,
    and since 2003 almost a dozen how-to books on techniques have
    been published.  

         In her 2003 review of the first ten years of the Journal of Artist’s
    Books (JAB), Johanna Drucker, a major theorist of the genre, talks
    about the lack of integration between “craft values, fine print
    values, and conception values.” While she celebrates the
    widespread popularization of artist’s books through the book arts
    centers that provide classes in how to make them as objects, she
    also laments the lack of emphasis on thematic and conceptual
    concerns. The situation with altered books seems even more
    extreme with craft and how-to examples sometimes almost empty
    of content or filled with greeting card quotations and hackneyed
    poetic sentiments that hardly rise above the level of verbal clip art.  
    Trying to adapt altered books for classroom use holds the double
    promise then of raising the conceptual level of the genre while
    also potentially enriching the creative life of the students.  
Visual Responses to Virginia Woolf
What Do You Say to a Naked Room
Altered Book by Allison Kellar
(2004)
Altered Books: A Brief Introduction
Window on the Sea
Altered Book by Elizabeth G
(2004)
What Do You Say to a Naked Room
Altered Book by Allison Kellar
(2004)