The wall of books


All books used in this project were already damaged and headed to the trash.

My front retaining wall got knocked out by a bucketloader over the winter, so needed to replace it. The wall got partially knocked out once before, but this time it got totally destroyed:


I could’t even FIND most of the blocks. Because of the location, I KNEW this wall would be clobbered eventually so I’d never mortared it because it would be easier to fit that way.  If I’d mortared it, I might be hammering out pieces for days.

There were originally about 20 blocks in it… and I found five.  There also had been a tree there, but it was taken down over the winter because it was rotted through the middle.  So it is now even more likely this wall will be hit again.  So I decided to use something I have at my disposal: unsaleable paperbacks.

These were all ones that are missing pages, missing covers, smell of mold, or were otherwise just so battered that they were headed for recycling anyway.  I knew since the wall was taken out in January that I needed to replace it, so had quite awhile to accumulate books in specific colors.  It also coincided with people’s spring cleaning, so I sometimes caoe in to store and find boxes of paperbacks piled against front door at this time of year.  Usually they’re the ones that people dumped and ran because they knew I wouldn’t give them credit for their box of moldy paperbacks that had been chewed on by squirrels and were headed straight to the dumpster under normal circumstances.  Now they shall be a wall!

Here they are sorted by color before I started. All the books are in some way damaged. The wall got knocked out in January sometime, so I had about 2 months to accumulate the crummy books in just the colors I wanted.

Stacking them. I interlocked them like they were bricks. It’s not entirely level in some spots because they vary a little in thickness.

Finished stacking them. It’s RAINBOW COLORED!

Hey look, I figured out how to use the time delay on the camera! I’m squarring up the wall here using a large stone slab that’ll go on top at the end. It’d drifted a little during stacking process so needed to be set a little better.

Squared up. I need to put some dirt behind it.

BUT NOT TOO MUCH! Oops. I realized it was bowing just a little but figured I’d put the last bucket in, THEN resquare it.  Hah.  No.  I should have squared it up again first.  Oh well.

Once I restacked it, I pushed everything back firmly into the dirt behind. It was late, so I just did quick stacking on top and went home.

NEXT DAY!!! All done!
I applied shellac to the front surface to waterproof it, but the back is exposed to the dirt. The stones then capped it. The weight holds it all in place. I fully intend for the backs to rot out. The “dirt” in that section is really a lovely mix of road sand, salt, gasoline, and cigarette butts. (note gas station in background of some of the photos) So the idea here being that it will hold some more water in the dirt (like a large papery sponge) and when it rots out, should add some nutrients.  Well, more nutrients than currently exist there. Between the constant wind and being scrapped by plows, the topsoil doesn’t exactly stick around long…

If I end up with stuff growing OUT of the wall itself, I will be delighted.

Got a lot of positive comments while I was working on the wall itself and customers seem rather taken with it.  The wall is just the right height to sit on.   It makes it easy for people to remember where the store is: by the wall of books!

I may well have to rebuild it again next year if it gets hit by another plow (likely).  But I will almost certainly have accumulated that many mangy books by then again…


8 thoughts on “The wall of books”

  1. BRILLIANT! It will certainly be a landmark that people will use when giving directions. “Two blocks past the wall of books…”.

    If you care about the soil you might want to throw a few worms in the dirt behind the books. They will love eating them and their castings make wonderful free fertilizer. But then you might have to rebuild it more often since they will remove your wall from the backside.

    Let us know how it wears as time passes.

  2. You’ve built a nice looking wall that took innovation and imagination to create.

    Since the back is unprotected, how many heavy rains do you think it’ll take weaken the structure and cause it to collapse? I don’t see it lasting a full year without being sealed.

    Next time around, why not seal each indicudual book my immersing them in shellac prior to stacking? I think you’ll get a longer life and it’ll be easir to build the wall because the books will bond together as you work.

    Just my 2c, but otherwise, great job!

    Joe Waynick
    Bookseller, Author, Mentor
    Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online

    • Its actually been rained on quite a bit now and hasn’t shifted much. The only thing I’ve needed to do so far was add a little more fill behind as it settled some and tipped the capstone slightly. That was just a matter of taking the tops off, throwing some more fill behind and recapping.

  3. It is amazing!!! I never think this type of works is possible. Its very very interesting too. Wastage things could be useful in this way.

  4. It was a great idea. But according to Prying1, now I also thinking about your books. When worms will grow then they will eat them all. The beauty and creativity will gone then. Good looking the wall of books.

  5. This is the most unique retaining wall of all time! Interesting concept and when the books deteriorate they will make the soil around it richer.

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