The Boston College library staff isn’t quick to give away the fact that they’re, in truth, a very rambunctious bunch-they’re librarians, after all. As they do every year, though, with their Edible Books Festival, turning food and words into art-and clever puns-they remind us that they throw quite the little party.
Set near the stairs of the O’Neill main lobby, the 23 entries to this year’s contest were arrayed on two tables as a crowd shuffled back and forth. Each edible entry is some sly reference to a book or the written word itself. The Edible Books Festival is an exercise in curiosity and patience, and most likely the shortest-lived art exhibit on campus. The staff places the exhibits a little before noon, and then staff and wayward students have a meager 60 minutes to inspect the entries. When the clock strikes 1 p.m., it’s on to the eating-the time for appreciating art is over, as vultures emerge from all corners of the library at the smell of free food.
There is one hour to appreciate art and about 10 minutes to get a tasty piece of each exhibit. One hour was more than enough time. The festival featured both endearingly simple arrangements and more elaborate ones. The same could be said of the puns, like Kevin Tringale’s “Animal (Crackers) Farm” based off George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm. Tricia McMahon’s “The Scarlet Letter” was short a pun, but the massive red velvet cake in the shape of an ‘A’ more than made up for it. Some of the other simpler pieces included Sally Wise’s “Bread Alone,” which was simply that-a bowl of bread. Hannah Ha’s “Kindness Among Cakes” from B.J. Novak’s One More Thing usually inspired a chuckle. The piece featured a collection of generously portioned cupcakes with cheery flags. Another clever entry was Sherm Homam’s “Betty Crocker’s Cooked Book.” The exhibit was a cake imitation of an old copy of one of Betty Crocker’s cook books, rips and all. It was chocolate on the inside. It made a lot of people happy.
The festival also included some more audacious exhibits. Este Pope’s “The Dead Seaweed Scrolls” was a nice contrast to the festival’s overwhelming obsession with cakes, though that may be an overarching societal obsession. Pope layered seaweed over sandpaper to create a tattered, aged effect. Cindy Jones’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Chutney” offered college students the chance to have chutney for the first time in a while, and those that did may not think of chutney in the same way again. Jones let her pun do the talking with a simple arrangement of pita chips and bowls of chutney. Esther Griswold’s “Wrinkles in Thyme” was another fine pun as a mini clock covered in ivy-looking thyme. While technically edible, the seasoned clock was more for show than eating.
The festival’s organizer, Scott Britton, contributed four pieces to the collection. Two shied more toward the axis of art than food. His “The Naked Apple” and “Rikki Tikki Taffy” were two handsome entries but difficult to eat, given that one was an apple with its skin shaved off and the latter a winding cobra made of taffy. They looked so good that the crowd was hesitant to destroy the exhibit. His other two, however, embraced the edible side of the festival. His “Huckleberry Flan” topped with blueberries lasted 10 minutes at most, and his “Shallot’s Web” lasted longer, only because the good people of BC cut out tiny portions.
What separates this event from all the other interesting art shows throughout the year is that the Edible Books Festival is fun. Art shows can be moving, deep, or inspiring, but few feed you in the sense of actual food, and sometimes, college crowds are looking for a bit more than pure artistic nourishment. We can enjoy looking at an artistic piece, but some part of us always wants to tear it down. Gingerbread houses aren’t meant to last. At the Edible Books Festival, you can admire an exhibit called “Donut Holes” by the Educational Resource Center, based on the classic Bones. You can admire it, get an approving nod from a library staff member, and begin stuffing your face with donut holes.