In the Presence of Books
by Deborah DeWit Marchant


William, James & Co., 2007. ISBN 1-59028-196-9.
Reviewed by Duffie Bart
Posted on 02/21/2008

Nonfiction: Creative Life

The painter, photographer, and writer, Deborah DeWit Marchant, came into my life in 2003 through her book Traveling Light: Chasing an Illuminated Life. Ms. Marchant tells her story using both photographs and text, showing how the quality of light shines on everything we see; and how, in its infinite variations, it illuminates our world with a metaphysical quality, an unknowable mystery.

The ethereal quality of "light" also permeates Ms. Marchant's new book, In the Presence of Books, a compilation of fifty-six paintings. As the title promises, books (at least one) are present in every painting and every painting offers an allegory. The books in her paintings lie wide open or closed, their pages flat, their corners sometimes curled, sometimes fluttering as though sending a message, the letters of language floating in the air we breathe.

One painting shows a book, its pages face down on the rumpled bedsheet and pillow of a large inviting bed. I can envision the reader eager to return, to take up where she left off, to reflect before she sleeps. Books lie on tables, on chairs, beside coffee cups, and eyeglasses, in rooms that say: a reader lives here. Books are omnipresent: in the sunlight of day, indoors and out, in the soulful hours of night. I especially love a painting in which two people are seated opposite one another, each engrossed in a book, legs stretched out on the same ottoman, a fire roaring—a touching reminder that books enrich not only our solitude but our companionship as well. Another book rests in a tree, whispering its connection to its roots and branches.

Books, these paintings tell me, reveal the interrelatedness of Everything, the internal and the external. The paintings offer books as the key to mystery: the mystery of our humanness, the mystery of light, of night, the mystery of nature, of relationship, the mystery of language itself. Books are cherished in these paintings, possessing the potential for journeys to a vast unknown. Each painting might be called "An Ode to the Book;" books are indeed sacred artifacts.

Writing too is a major theme in this collection. As one who loves to write, my fingers can feel the luxurious quality of the writing paper lying on a desk, the stylish beauty of the pen poised to write, the potential thoughts of the writer—all connected to the beauty of sky, birds, and trees; the moods of seasons and time. The words inside of us and outside of us are waiting to be made real, whether we write them, read them or dream them.

This reviewer greatly values books, and rarely leaves the house without one tucked under her arm. They are my source of learning about the world and about myself, my opportunity to laugh and cry. I savor every painting in this collection. Ms. Marchant paints the world of books with her rich imagination and indisputable skill as an artist.


Born in 1956, Deborah DeWit Marchant is a fifth generation artist, a descendant of Dutch illustrators and paintings. She is also the author of Traveling Light: Chasing An Illuminated Life, a photo-illustrated written chronicle of her young years as a photographer and developing artist. Deborah and her husband Robert live with their three cats in an old red house in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.

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