A second act for old books

People like to think that even the trashy romance from the 1960s that’s falling out of the binding and has first 6 pages are missing will still go to “good home” rather than being recycled as paper pulp.   Old books all go off to the book retirement home and frolic in a meadow with the ghost of Beatrix Potter.  There may be singing involved.

Booksellers know better.   Most books don’t improve with age, anymore than clothing does.  They get spots, holes, and go out of fashion.   Nobody really wants that book on a fad diet from the 70s.  Most books have only a limited period of desirability before no one wants them and are destined for recycling. Not every book is a winner.

But sometimes even the losers go on to a second act as art. People love books and love seeing them incorporated into other things.  So books that are damaged but still have some charm might get to be turned into new treasures.

Rebound with new pages as a sketchbook:

post card book cover


From: Jaime Rose

As purses

From Biblio Bags


To decorate boxes

From Hocus Focus


As a base for prints

From Little Blue Bird Studios


Turned into a sculpture

From Raiders of the Lost Art


A carved relief sculpture

From Alexander Korzer-Robinson


Or most delightfully, as a case for an e-reader.


I’ve also had a recent run at the store on “books as props”.  They need a specific size or color book for a film or stage show as part of the background and I can generally provide something that fits the specs from the things that are otherwise destined for recycling.


The vast majority of old and damaged books will still eventually end up recycled, but they may get one last hurrah.

2 thoughts on “A second act for old books”

  1. I agree that if a book is unreadable, completely destroyed except for some plates or intact pages, using for artwork is wonderful.

    The problem, not with booksellers, but with some ‘artists’ is they can’t tell the difference between a book that has had its last read, or a title that may be banged up, but intact, with all plates and text.

    I specifically refer to many individuals who create ‘altered art’ with original plates from children’s or illustrated books pulling those pieces out to leave the rest of the book butchered.

    I lose my mind and temper when confronted with this practice. Again, I refer to only those books whose life is not over, just a bit on the downside. A beautiful Mother Goose with perhaps soiled boards, bumped corners, some coloring on the endpapers, is not a candidate for ripping the lovely illustrations out, and leaving the rhymes, or removing the entire inside with only the boards remaining for some project as above. I run into many people on etsy and flickr that think nothing of this practice, just so they can layer image upon image and call it art.

    Of course not all artists are like this, they won’t defile an intact book.
    I shudder, really cringe at the thought of an unknowing person finding a decent dust jacket on a book, and thinking, great, a cover for my ipad or kindle, when in reality that jacketed book may be coveted by collectors. Unlikely, I hope.

    On the other hand, I had an old Night Before Christmas–Victorian, with aged orange flaking pages, loose in the rubbed, worn, scratched boards that would be perfect for a talented person to utilized in some fashion. This book’s days were at an end. I can not throw out a book, no matter what condition. It’s an illness, lol. So I sent it to someone who would love it and use it however they want.

    I work with vintage images, illustrations, in jewelry, but I’m not one of the people who believe it can’t be ‘real’ if the pictures aren’t original, cut, ripped, excised from whatever source it came from. I can’t help but worry that some who think they are recycling are in reality destroying.

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