A misuse of books?

Every now and then I come across this inexplicable baby bear picture book on the floor in Daughter’s room. I think to myself, ‘what is she doing with that?’

And then I actually worked out what the book was. Not a favourite from childhood or anything sweet like that. It’s the one she got from the charity shop to ruin. I mean, she got it to be thoroughly educational. I believe I complained here earlier about the Art teacher who instructed the students to get an old picture book that was to be painted white and then have various arty things happen to it. I felt it was sending the wrong signals to young people.

Book wall

Recently I happened upon this wall in my house magazine (and what a wonderful source of material it is for a book blog!) and had to have a long think about whether I thought it was OK to use pages from books in place of wallpaper. I suppose it might be. But…

At that point I remembered reading about two people who shared a flat once. One of them produced an expensive coffee table book on art and then cut all the pages out and stuck them on the walls, like paintings. The other at first thought this was sacrilege, but realised when they came to move out after some years, that this way they had got to enjoy that art properly. If it had sat in the dark inside the book on a shelf, or even on a coffee table, the pictures would rarely, if ever, have been looked at.

That struck me as quite deep, at the time. So on that basis I suppose cutting up a book for wallpaper is fine.

But can I see myself pulling pages out of  books? No. Although if I did, I’d make sure I arranged them in a considerably neater way than the people in my magazine did.

And then there is the rather special picture presented to Keren David on Saturday. That too, was a former book, so to speak. But very nicely done, complete with witch.

I’m nothing if not inconsistent.

11 responses to “A misuse of books?

  1. Hilary McKay

    Dear Witch,

    As a child I used to sometimes slice my books into slim sections in order that they might be more easily concealed to read during the many boring hours of religious instruction my school thought fit to impose. I dissected fiction, non fiction and poetry. I did not always fix the sections back together.

    The school music teacher used to slice up classical music in a similar way. Five or ten minutes of whatever she could lay her hands on were played to us ignorant little 7-11 years old every school morning of our lives. I have never stopped being thankful for her butchery.

    Were we wrong, Mrs Robinson and I?

    Yours curiously, Hilary

  2. Dear Hilary,

    Yes. And no.

    But at least it might be easier to slide the thinner bits in under the tarmac when those ‘books’ have to go.

    They look less pretty on the shelf. Do you have shelves? Or do you go straight to the nearest by-pass?

    Firmly yours,


  3. What do you make of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes?

    I come from a zine background where cutting and pasting is part of the general culture. On the other hand I was brought up with a certainl respect for books as objects, so I understand your conflict. I think I come down on the side of thinking books are, at the end of the day, just objects, and what matters are the stories they contain, and if cutting them up and putting them on walls can help to introduce new people to those stories, or reawaken my interest in them, that has to be a good thing.

    It strikes me writing this how similar the arguments are to the Reformers arguing over the sacraments – what they are versus what they symbolise, and whether an act against the thing such as Zwingli kicking the communion bread around the floor is an act against what it represents or a proper respect for the genuine object of worship

  4. It is possible to be a book lover and bring yourself to cut up books. I admit to buying a book that was just colour plates (no text) so I could cut them out and frame them. But that second picture, where the text has been ripped out to wallpaper a wall? This says to me “You want to look cool, cutting edge and intellectual but to me this says that books mean nothing to you, which buggers up your image big time.” But then I’m a book geek!

  5. Hilary McKay

    I have a few shelves, some heaps, and a brown paper bag containing the three volumes I think of a my retirement fund, signed by her-up-North.

    You are right really, and I shall not forget the sickening day when my daughter and the rest of her class (aged 10 and 11) were given the job at school of tearing the backs off all the discarded library books in order that they could go into paper waste. And how proud of her I was when she crawled home, bowed to the ground by carrier bags and announced, “Look what I managed to steal.”


  6. Dan – that is very deep. I need to think.
    Che – you hit the nail there, I think.
    Hilary – where exactly is this bag? And I remember Son carrying home an encyclopaedia volume by volume from the school library. When we were done with it, it went to someone on freecycle.

    Now, where’s my stanley knife?

  7. We carry a bunch of books on what it is now all the vogue to call ‘repurposing’ other books these days. It seems a very odd phenomenon.

  8. I don’t know what I feel about cutting up books but I’m excited to hear about your house magazine, Bookwitch. Could it be that this is another interest we share ( apart from puddings)?

  9. Yes, I knew we were kindred spirits, Jane! If you don’t mind them being Swedish (I feel it makes them so much better!) you can have mine when I’m done.
    Don’t mention puddings. I need to be able to get into my clothes.

  10. I’m glad you brought up this issue. I think the whole debate about saving libraries and also people’s attitude toward electronic literature has been somewhat muddied by people’s fetisization of books as objects. Why not take a pair of scissors to some of yours and set yourself (and the book’s content) free!

  11. Seana – repurposing is an astonishing word. And I suppose it would work on lots more than books. I could do with being repurposed.

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