Thursday, December 22, 2011

Center Paige: Direction of the Road

Direction of the Road is a favorite among JCBA fans & employees. Science fiction & fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin wrote the story & artist Aaron Johnson constructed the book, box & images. The book is made out of over-beaten homemade linen paper & bound together in a long stitch. The text is letterpress printed & paper leave are pasted on every page. The book is held in a portfolio box & on the inside of the box's cover is a woodcut image. On the inside of the spine of the box is a tube covered with reflective polymer.

The story follows the life of an oak tree that lives in a field by a road. It has solitary life by the road with the exception of the occasional squirrel or bird. The tree also has a job to fulfill. It must grow larger as things get closer to it & smaller as things get further away. The tree can even grow larger on one side & smaller on the other as things travel down the road & the tree can do it in its sleep. The tree gets use to people traveling on horses & wagons, but soon notices loud, horseless wagons more & more. One of these high-speed cars caused the oak to leap in front of the car, causing the tree to make the decision to kill the driver. The tree was not happy about the mortal decision it had to make, but the driver didn't follow the North-South rules of the road. The tree had to kill him, but it is not a job that oaks are made for.

The whole story not only takes an interesting perspective, that of a tree, but also the way the tree sees the world is interesting. The tree sees itself the way we would see a tree. The tree grows bigger & smaller, or the tree moves slowly or at sixty miles per hour, depending on your ride. We also see the changes in the tree's world that come from changes in ours. The air smells, birds that travel to the tree lessen, & the tree gains new jobs. It not only has to provide shade to travelers, homes to animals, but also kill those who don't follow the rules.

Aaron Johnson took the story's unique POV & incorporated it with book. For one, the over-beaten pages make a rustling noise, much like that of leaves blowing in the wind. The leaves pasted on the pages turn green to brown as the story goes on, conveying life transitioning to death. But the most surprising & creative aspect of the book is the woodcut inside the box, which looks like a warped image of indistinct lines surrounding a circle. If you place the reflective tube on the circle, you realize that the woodcut is actually a warped image of a tree that has to be viewed on the tube & details like birds & a man sitting under the tree become clear. It is an anamorphic image, anamorphic meaning "to transform" in Greek, & is an art form first experimented with by Leonardo di Vinci.

Everything about Direction of the Road, from the box to the story to the art to the paper, is to convey & reiterate Le Guin & Johnson's themes. That is why is a favorite here at the center & new audience members always get a kick out of this book.

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