These Books Were Made for Crafting, and That’s Just What I’ll Do

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Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

When starry-eyed and style-jealous visitors enter my home, they often ask for my decorating secrets. I don’t want copycats in town, so I withhold from them, but now I’m ready to whisper the magic ingredient to you, stranger-far-away: I make my home beautiful with the corpses of books.

Look closer and you’ll see it clearly. My parakeet’s cage gives off a very vintage black-and-white feel, in great thanks to the torn-out pages of Nicholas Sparks titles that I use to line its bottom. Because Nickie’s pages are treated for tear-resistance, they seem all but designed with such a second life in mind.

How do my umbrellas remain so erect by my front door? Well, it’s thanks to the old dictionaries that I glued in a stack, then drilled a hole through the center of. They rendered themselves useless for Scrabble by not including “sriracha” and “email” (c’mon, have some foresight, early Webster!),  but given new purpose, they contain other multitudes well.

Scoot over to my kitchen and note that I’ve repurposed warped old paperbacks as potholders and spoon rests—brilliance, if I’ve ever heard of it. And my knives are kept neat because they’re pressed between the leaves of cookbooks that were trendy in the nineties, but are otherwise passé now. Trust that those chefs would be relieved to hear that their avocado foam recipes still have some relevance.

I don’t have art, either—I have prints that I’ve X-Acto knifed out of art books rescued from Goodwill and recycling bins, framed prettily in frames obtained in much the same way. Love my bathroom decorations? That’s every page of Everyone Poops, torn out and pressed behind glass.

Overnight guests ask what it takes to make my curtains susurrate as they do in the midnight breeze. Why, you layer them, dears—and line them with torn-out and crumpled pages in between. It makes for that nice, evocative rustle, and it doubles to hold heat in. I stuff the valances with extras, which is why they’re so prettily poofy.

I soundproofed my closet by lining it with discarded ARCs; it’s the perfect place to go when you just need to scream in frustration because the news has become too much. I line my drawers with fallen-off hardback covers for a nice library scent. It doesn’t keep the moths away, but my socks smell quite sophisticated through their shortened life spans.

All those sad, sad books that I’ve dropped into the tub because I couldn’t hold them tightly AND weep? I’ve dried them out and used them as insulation for my potted plants. Squeezed into tube shapes, they also hold your shoes’ shapes, and they can be stuffed into the arms of fancy coats to make a closet look more voluminous. The possibilities are endless.

If you give a mouse a Kafka, he’s bound to ask for more reading material…so I don’t use ratty titles that way. I do, however, take books with hints of infestation problems and hide them in the back of my cabinets. It’s cheaper than buying ant traps.

You may think that my stuffed bookshelves bespeak great immersion in the classics, but step closer and you’ll note: half of those covers have been hollowed out to make boxes for trinkets and secrets, and half of those are filled with those tiny New Testaments that proselytizers hand out on campuses, which I’m saving to make a Christmas garland from (watch my Etsy shop for further details on that). Likewise, that 1980s encyclopedia set along the wall is a ruse; its pages are gone, and my safe is behind it.

My cat looks that stylish because I origami-fashioned her a book-pages hat and bowtie. She knows she’s chic and she flaunts it. I use philosophical treatises that I’ve grown past to keep my cupboard’s feet even, and I made my kitchen chairs less rocky in much the same way. If any of my furniture passes the test of a carpenter’s level, it’s probably thanks to a book.

Look—ask any librarian or thrift store volunteer. Books don’t last forever. Millions are printed of hit titles that quickly lose their sheen; next generations aren’t interested. Watermarks and mold can be deadly to larger collections, and it would be unwise to recommend forcing a damaged book between books that you actually want to keep.

Even books made to last a long time aren’t made to last forever, and when a hardcover glued on a hundred years ago is dangling from a forgotten title by a literal thread, it’s okay to tear it off and reuse it in a new and artful way. Not all books can be read again. That’s okay. If you’ve got glue, glitter, scissors, and an imagination: you can do something new and great with an old book that just isn’t able persist in its original form any more.

And you can look awesome doing it, as my vibrant book graveyard of a home attests.