Morbid Anatomy

The Story of a Story

This is an art book project made to commemorate the anniversary of the 1933 Nazi book burnings in Germany, during a New England regional celebration of Banned Books Week. I asked myself what it is that makes some people hate a book enough to want to wipe it out of existence. How is it that some people think a given book is great literature while others think the same book is an abomination? How can people have such violently differing views of the same inanimate object?

To find the answer, I read a book. I chose one about medicine, arguably the world’s most controversial subject. I went with The Human Body, by Dr. Logan Clendenning, 1927, a layperson’s overview of the history of medical science, found in the as-is bin at a used bookseller. Dr. Clendenning was an engaging writer with strong, clear opinions – a man after my own heart.

I read his book over a three-day weekend, and as I read, I copied onto a pad every word, phrase or paragraph that particularly struck me in any way, for any reason. I wrote them down in the order they came up. When I was done, I set it all aside and did other things. Two days later, I looked at my pad of notes.

I found that I had essentially written an entire new book by excerption. My notes in the order written made sense. They had narrative flow. They had voice. They expressed views and made points.

And the story they told was entirely different from the book I had been reading.

My eyes had taken in Dr. Clendenning’s book, but my brain had put out a book that I had been writing unconsciously inside my own head for who knows how many years.

I consider that this explains a lot about a lot in this world.

I turned my notes into a book made up of Dr. Clendenning’s words as excerpted and my own collage illustrations. I titled my book Morbid Anatomy, because the word “morbid” means something different to doctors than it does to laypeople, and I exhibited my book and Dr. Clendenning’s side by side to encourage people to consider the implications.

It was an interesting experiment. Everyone should try it.