human behavior

The book as art: elevated but desanctified

Posted in Art, Crafts, Habits & Manners, Home improvement by humanb on September 20, 2012

For the past six weeks I’ve been on a ‘craft tear’ at my mother-in-law’s house while she’s been away.  In an effort to declutter and further beautify an already charming home, I’ve been upcycling objects and materials I’ve found inside the house, behind the car port, in the garage and … yes, on the bookshelves.

Her library is considerable. She and her late husband had collected thousands of books – most of which at least one of them had read at some point.  As a result, bookcases lined the walls of two hallways, one living room, one lounge room, one office, and the two smallest bedrooms. The leftovers filed smaller bookcases in two other bedrooms or were boxed up in the garage.

You could smell the dust on the second floor, and neither of the two smaller bedrooms had room for – you know, beds and stuff.

The books had taken over.

Most of the books my mother-in-law would never open again, and quite a large number of them would never have been read by any other relative either. There were yellowed and crumbling books and multiple copies of classics. How many paperback copies of Oliver Twist does one home need? Does it need six? Alice in Wonderland? Is five too many?

So the library got a serious weeding, which was no small feat, and a little painful. Six boxes of thrillers went to a local prison, but twice as many books that were either duplicates, or of questionable interest to anyone, went to the recycling bin. [Gasp! Hand on mouth!]

In our defence, we did our homework and looked for libraries and charities that would be interested in the collection, but found no takers other than Brush Farm Corrective Services Academy. And the money required to ship old paperbacks out of Sydney to another city or continent would have been better spent buying new books for some needy organization.

Which begs the question: Why is it such a crime to tear up or throw away old books? Libraries do it, and you’d think librarians would have the greatest appreciation for the book. (Incidentally, I have a Masters in Library Science). And yet you will find a significant number of people who consider it criminal to throw away any book.

I find that attitude annoying and short-sighted.

Consider some trashy romance novel.  Is it a crime to recycle this paper? Is that crime worse than the crime of chopping down a tree to make it in the first place?

How many copies of Bridget Jones’ Diary or Shades of Grey does the world need? If dozens of publishers the world over choose to mass produce millions of copies of A Tale of Two Cities for a profit at the expense of the environment, is the onus now on consumers to ensure that every single copy is preserved for future generations?

I think not.

Still, I think the great books that must go the way of the recycling bin can be honoured in a more sensible way than as space-occupying dust collectors. So I tried to do just that with some of the books in my mother-in-law’s library. I chose books of which she had multiple copies:

Using the yellowed crumbly pages of one of the books, I covered a piece of MDF with text-filled paper, before pasting some of the more interesting book covers on top.

But I didn’t just choose the books with the prettiest covers. I tried to select books that had meant something to me or to someone else in the household.

For the extra spaces in between, I used the spines of other books.

I’m pretty pleased with the result, and I think the piece looks quite at home with the more traditional art in the room.

So I’ve defaced quite a few classics in the pursuit of art here, and I’m fine with that, because I know these covers will provide more pleasure than the contents of the original books ever will. These third and fourth copies of classics would have never been picked up again.

And yet, I still haven’t managed to part with the coverless books they belong to. They sit on my craft shelf waiting for an artistic use – perhaps as the background for another collage. I’m starting to think I should recycle them now though.

Afterall, does the world really require the continued existence of my coverless third copy of To Kill a Mockingbird? Or does the Earth have enough copies to go around?

You decide.

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3 Responses

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  1. lolly0 said, on September 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

    What a gorgeous idea!

    • humanb said, on September 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Yeah. So simple – it’s just cutting and pasting – and it’s pretty hard to get wrong. Try it!

  2. It's only P! said, on September 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    What a job… and what a result! Truly stunning.


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