Bookmash: Forest of symbols

[click to enlarge]

Forest of symbols

The forest of symbols,
The eye beguiled:
Tree of smoke
Through the language glass,
Everything you know
Lost in translation.


With thanks to the authors: Victor Turner, Bruno Ernst, Denis Johnson, Guy Deutscher, Zoë Heller, and Eva Hoffman; and to Nina Katchadourian, whose Sorted Books project was my original inspiration for this.

More of these, and links to other people’s, in the bookmash archive. Cross-posted on Tumblr.


Lafcadio De La Foret writes: “If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with aphasia, I’ve found the words that explain it best to me. And it’s compiled by just stacking six books.”


13 Responses to Bookmash: Forest of symbols

  1. thepoormouth says:

    Nice one Stan!

  2. johnwcowan says:

    The Eva Hoffman book is wonderful.

  3. alexmccrae1546 says:


    What a fun exercise in word play, this ‘Bookmash’ concept.

    As a relative newbie on your site, it’s my first encounter w/ this clever book-title-linking phenomenon. Shades of haiku, but maybe not as pithy, or concise.

    As a confirmed bibliophile w/ several towers of precariously stacked volumes inhabiting my humble abode, plus many boxes of books in storage, on the premises, and a voluminous backyard vinyl shed, the Bookmash possibilities, for me, appear almost endless. (I’m not a complete slob…. I do have many shelved books, as well.)

    I did come up w/ a quickie, impromptu ‘mash’ when I caught today’s article, and it goes like this.

    Just my Type
    Yentl the Yeshiva Boy
    Born Standing up
    Where the Sidewalk Ends*

    Of course, “Just My Type” is the wonderfully engaging and informative, fairly recently published book on the history of type fonts by Simon Garfield.

    “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” is a little short story, slim volume by the celebrated Yiddish author, Isaac Bashevis Singer.

    “Born Standing Up” is a memoir by the brilliant funny-man, Steve Martin.

    And finally, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is written and delightfully illustrated by the late Shel Silverstein.

    *Stan, I could readily supply a (mini) stacked visual of the aforementioned tomes, but I’m not currently on any of the popular social-media sites like Twitter, or Facebook. So, do you have any alternate suggestions? Do you have an e-mail address where I could reach you, and attach said visual? No biggie.

  4. Stan says:

    Jams: Thank you!

    John: I am glad to hear that. It’s been on my unread pile for a while, but I’ve moved it nearer the front.

    Alex: It’s a lot of fun all right. Some of my older ones are pithier than the above example, others are longer; it’s a versatile game. And it was the toppling of a precariously stacked tower, such as you describe, that got me started! If you want to send me a photo (stan @, or upload it via imgur or a similar site, I’ll happily embed it in a comment here.

  5. Mise says:

    Nicely assembled, Stan!

  6. Claude says:

    Splendid, Stan! I hope the living writers know about the Bookmash poems. I would consider it such an honour that one of my titles would encounter others in this smashing way!

  7. alexmccrae1546 says:


    You’ve unwittingly created a monster….. namely yours truly, who has suddenly become a total convert to the ‘Bookmash’ craze. HA!

    Here’s another ditty compiled from volumes within-arms length of my desktop computer, in my communications inner sanctum.

    Wobegon Boy
    Born To Kvetch
    The Unexplained
    14,000 things to be happy about

    Talk about a motley mix of subject matter, eh? Yet somehow there’s a thread of coherent sense in it all. Or, maybe not. HA!

    As an artist, w/ a fair grasp of art history, I can’t help conjure up the creative visual games-of-chance invented by those adventurous early 20th-century Dada and Surrealist writers, and artists, such as Francis Picabia, Andre Bréton, Marcel Duchamps, and Man Ray.

    Their automatic writing ‘experiments’ come immediately to mind. Although the element of sheer accident, happenstance, and the workings of the unconscious came much more into play here, than the more reasoned-out thinking involved in these Bookmash exercises.

    I’ll e-mail you a photo of this particular ‘mash-up’, w/ a little added touch of drollery crowning the stack of books.

    *Authorship credits for the aforementioned titles, from top to bottom, respectively, include Garrison Keillor, Michael Wex, Allen Spraggett, Barbara Ann Kipfer, and the always engaging John McPhee.

  8. Stan says:

    Mise: I’m glad you like it!

    Claude: Thank you. I think I’ve told three authors (via Twitter) of their appearance in these bookmashes. One was pleased and gracious about it; the other two ignored me.

    Alex: It is quite addictive, especially at first when all the possibilities present themselves. Yes, there’s a resemblance to cut-up type experiments, though I try to keep my bookmashes reasonably coherent compared to what they might be. Here are the ones you sent me:

  9. […] mentioned Eva Hoffman’s book Lost in Translation here in April when it featured in a bookmash, Forest of Symbols. John Cowan, in a comment, said it was a wonderful book, which prompted me to […]

  10. […] no special theme, but some have been explicitly linguistic, e.g. Evolution: the difference engine, Forest of symbols, The web of words, Ambient gestures, and Cat and Mouse […]

  11. […] another Guy Deutscher work, Through the Language Glass, in my earlier bookmash ‘Forest of Symbols’. Elgin’s feminist ling-sci-fi Native Tongue is the one I […]

  12. […] Grammar, Unlocking the Language, The Name of the World, Evolution: The Difference Engine, Forest of Symbols, Ambient Gestures, and The Web of […]

  13. […] of these books and authors have featured before. You can browse the full archive of book spine poems, which also […]

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