Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Good uses for old books

Even when my father found boxes of old, musty books no one reads in storage, it made me sad when he threatened to burn them. Books hold a certain energy and magic to them before we even get to read them, especially when old fonts and elaborate hardcovers are involved, but if the fact of the matter is that your bookshelves are full and these old tomes are going unused, what are some good ways to keep them in our lives, or the lives of others?

  1. Donate them
      Whether to an old library for archives or a theater or portrait photographer for props, there are lots of places that may still value those books exactly as they are. Think about organizations or people in your community that could take the time to preserve them, or who would make use of them in their current condition.
  2. Writing prompts/writing games
      If the chapters inside are doomed to go unread, perhaps there is use to be made of the words. Roll a die and select words from that page to build a new scene. Create censorship poetry by blacking out certain lines/words and leaving others, so the pages say something new. Use them when you need a name or place quickly. Play with the language in them to enhance your own.
  3. Editing practice
      As many writing students may learn the hard way, writing that was considered great for its time is not always to be replicated today. Although ideas from older works were profound and universal, sentences have gotten tighter, and pages have gotten livelier. Perhaps the old fashioned pages in your attic could be a practice field for some good red-penning. How would you develop that character if it were your novel? How would you rewrite a beginning, or and ending, if you could? What can you learn about stronger language based on the wording in those books that may be hard to get through?
  4. Hollow them out
      You know I had to bring this up. How cool are the secret hiding places found in books? If this is the kind of sleuthy storage you've longed for, here are some links that explain the process:

  5. Crafting material
      Since we know that older books often have a more ornamental quality to them, why not reuse their beauty? Cut out old illustrations and paste them for homemade greeting cards, or bookmarks. Snip out words in graceful fonts to spell out your favorite quotes, or to write someone a friendly letter.
      Additionally, there is decoupage to consider. Why not recover old furniture, or any creative surface? It could give your home a more literary feel, or make some great gifts for your bookworm friends!
      Old paper products and candy wrappers have been used for some creative weaving as of late, to create products like handbags, or belts. Could there be a pretty penny to be made on your pretty texts?
      Literary pinatas for bookish parties are also a possibility. For a paper maché recipe, go there:
  6. Sculpture
      This kind of goes along with crafting, but is in a way, more elaborate. Sculpting with old books has been in the news lately due to Edinburgh's Library phantom: but this literary hero is not the first person to turn a work of writing, into visual art. Here are some other examples of this tedious and glorious art form you may enjoy:
  7. Become a Library Phantom
      And as long as you're fighting to keep books used and beautiful, why not make a statement with what you make? The library phantom is leaving presents in Scotland that stand for literature and finding of “words, stories, ideas..” and that simple anonymous drop is inspiring awe around the world. What can you make that will ignite awareness around what you love?
  8. At-home banking
      It was not uncommon in times of financial crisis for people to store their money between book pages, as a back up in case banks didn't pull through, or as a replacement for banks entirely. The hiding place is inconspicuous, and also hard to discover, as searching through every page is hard unless you already know where they are. Put a bill at every page with your favorite number, so you remember where you left your rainy day stash!
  9. Flower pressing
      Stacks of books are a common and even traditional tool for saving flowers you would otherwise see die. Pressed flowers can be used in jewelry, matted and framed, or made into book marks and other gifts. Pressing is also used for preserving/drying herbs for tea and medicine. For more tips, go here:
  10. Aesthetic
      As we've established, there is something about the presence of an old book that has power. If you can't bring yourself to cut up or scribble on them, why not bring them out of storage and let them hand around? Use them as door-stoppers, or a centerpiece, or to fill an otherwise dead/boring corner of your home. I hear they're nice housemates.
  11. Rock-it launcher (Fallout 3)
      For any of you familiar with gaming, specifically the post-apocalyptic Fallout Series, you know that the wasteland is covered in ruined or destroyed books that accomplish nothing. You can not read, sell, or even sculpt with them. You can, however, kick ass with them. The game offers the chance for you to build your own junk-weapons, one which propels junk into the faces of your adversaries. Whenever I build the rock-it launcher, I pick over old teddy bears and toasters, to always fight with literature. To see the famed gun in action, watch here:
  12. Read Them
      If all these solutions seem unacceptable, you may as well get busy reading them. It is, after all, the reason they were printed however many eons ago, and there is always something new to gain from them.

For more ideas on reusing old books, visit:


  1. This post is brilliant! I think my favorite suggestion is 4) Hollow Them Out. But I don't think I'd ever be able to bring myself to do that to any of my books - no matter how old.

  2. @AK Dawson
    Aww, thank you! =) I also like the idea of hollowing them out.
    I should mention that by "old," I really mean, not-in-use. There are plenty of books that are aged and still as useful and used as when they were printed. I refer mostly to the ones that occupy space in the barn/attic/basement because they were appreciated in theory, but have been replaced, or republished, or never picked up.

    I'm not sure I could hurt any of the books in my apartment with me, but there are these piles at my parents' that have been there since we moved 14 years go. I feel like they'll never get used any other way.