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Are Paper Books Sacrosanct?

Lauren Conrad, infamously of The Hills, had a Youtube video of her demonstrating how to hollow out books to make a small storage item. Home stores sell these fake hallowed out books by the crateful. Yet, there was a huge number of negative comments for Conrad’s video protesting the destruction of these books and the video was ultimately taken down.

Yet one of the most viral things in the book community in 2011 were paper sculptures secretly left around Scotland, which while cool, also resulted in the destruction of a book. Su Blackwell, a celebrated paper book sculpture artist sells her works for up to 5,000 pounds. In an interview, she said, “I began feeling guilty about cutting up the books but I had the integrity that I would create something magical from it.”

I’ve collected ten destructive uses of books in art, from the magical to the mundane. Yea or nay on using books as crafts?

1. Isaac Salzar folds down the pages to create words. More at his Flickr site.

From artist Isaac G Salazar


2. Book sculptures by Boukje Voet


Book sculptures by Boukje Voet

Book sculptures by Boukje Voet


3. Su Blackwell’s sculptures. I’d love to own one of these.

Su Blackwell's Sculptures

Su Blackwell’s Sculptures

4. The secret Scottish paper sculpture creator. See the entire collection here.

Secret Scottish paper sculpture

Secret Scottish paper sculpture photographed by Chris Scott

5. Jacqueline Rush Lee is a multimedia artist uses books and paper in many of her installations. More here.

Jacqueline Rush Lee paper sculptures

Jacqueline Rush Lee paper sculptures

6. Brian Detmer is another artist who uses books as the basis for many of his creations. Peruse his gallery here.

The Story of a Man by Brian Detmer, 2010

The Story of a Man by Brian Detmer, 2010

7. Booksi – a charger for your iPhone made out of a book. From Etsy.

Booksi a charger for your iPhone

Booksi a charger for your iPhone from Rich Neeley Designs

8. Book page garland from The Shabby Creek Cottage.

From The Shabby Creek Cottage

9. The clutch made from book covers. (As an aside, I got into a huge argument on Twitter with a literary agent who swore up and down this was a copyright violation. I tried to point out the right of First Sale but she was having none of it.)

the book clutch

The Book Clutch from Good Luck Goods on Etsy


10. Finally, books as shelves for non books. A craft from A Little Tipsy.

Books as shelves

Books as shelves, a craft from A Little Tipsy

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. library addict
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 04:06:50

    If it was some rare first edition I would say leave the book alone. Otherwise, books as art is fine with me.

  2. Sandra Schwab
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 04:54:00

    You can use the books-as-shelves for books as well. That would result in magical, floating piles of books along your wall. :-)

    So many old books are simply discarded and thrown away. IMO, it’s much better to give a book a second life by turning it into a paper sculpture, a clutch or a bookshelf.

  3. ms bookjunkie
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 05:05:59

    There are piles and piles of titles that UBSs won’t take because they can’t move them. No one’s interested in reading them. If someone can make art or something useful out of them, more power to them.

    That’s not to say my heart doesn’t crack at the destruction of a book if the end result is less than magnificent.

  4. Ellie
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 05:32:36

    This reminds me of that scene in The Day After Tomorrow, where they are holed up in the NY Public Library,burning books to stay alive. One of the characters is having a fit about the book burning, and another says, “There’s whole shelves of tax law over there”. So yeah, I’m okay with it.

  5. Jess
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 05:47:04

    While looking at the book artwork, I wondered if people’s problems were with the individual rather than that they were “defacing” a book. Having not seen the Youtube video in question I couldn’t say if her project was a wreck to begin with and on top of that she’s really not an artist, but it did cross my mind. On a very related note, the nine examples (minus the tenth because it’s not really destruction)were kind of awesome.

  6. Anne
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 06:24:00

    I’m reading a lot of the really ancient and old books on Project Gutenberg and The Internet Archive and must say I am seriously happy someone decided to conserve these books. But a couple of decades ago a lot of them might have been destroyed as being of no consequence and now they have quite some value as witnesses of a time period. The bookbindings alone are often just wonderful. Obviously I am one of those who ache over such losses, though I see a difference between art and making utilitarian objects out of books.

  7. Ellen
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 06:58:58

    I worked in a UBS for years as a teen. I saw how many books were just thrown away because there were too many (customers would leave them, even thrift stores wouldn’t take them). The Exorcist and various Flowers in the Attic are two remember most clearly.
    If you can find a use for a book, use it. Just apply a little common sense. Is making a safe out of it any worse than dropping it in a tub or spilling a Coke on it.
    Kids have been the doing the safe thing for years. My daughter bought a hardback of her BFF’s favorite book just to make a safe out of it for a Bat Mitzvah gift. BFF loved it.

    I agree it is the person doing it, not the act itself.

  8. rosecolette
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 07:00:55

    I think it’s the way the art is presented. Do I need a book phone charger? No, that’s wasting a good book. Do I need a hidey-hole book? Ehn… Depends on if it were previously damaged beyond reading but the spine and cover were too beautiful to let go. Then there are people like the mystery Scottish book artist who truly love and adore books and their magic and what libraries offer. Each of those pieces arrived with a little note thanking the library or speaking of the beauty of reading. The other book artists I’ve seen (not just the ones listed above) all speak of a love of books and readings. That to me is the difference between an artist reverently folding pages to create something new and a homestore using treasured favorite books to churn out useless, cluttering junk.

  9. may
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 07:07:54

    I’m a book lover (of course), and a crafter. On occasion I do use parts (or a whole) book. I agree with the commenters so far that it is better to put a book to use when you can. Sometimes I go looking for the grunged up books people are dumping at a garage sale or the used bookstore super cheap section I call “somebody please take this”. I can think of only one time that the book was so awful that I used it for crafting out of spite.

    For me, it is much more a re-purposing thing than a destroy thing.

    I will share one thing: last year I used a harlequin romance from the early 90’s that I’d grabbed for a quarter and wasn’t in good shape to begin with to make die cut leaves for my Thanksgiving centerpiece. I will never forget when my sister in law first saw the word “nipple” on one of the leaves… which then caused everyone to try and read the leaves on the centerpiece. The naughtiness was a hit. ;-)

  10. Jane
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 07:56:33

    The video is in the first link. The Buzzfeed secondary headline says something like “I feel like I am watching a murder.”

  11. Jane
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 07:58:15

    @Jess: The 10th one does involve screwing brackets onto a book so it’s kind of destructive. I actually thought the book garland was quite beautiful.

  12. Anaquana
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 08:18:27

    I don’t see anything wrong with using books in a utilitarian manner like this. Especially if we’re talking about mass-produced modern printings or an older book that’s falling apart.
    My father-in-law found a beautiful hardback edition of Shakespeare’s works that’s at least 75 years old, but the pages are falling out and crumbling. I want to eventually turn the still in decent condition cover into a purse.

    BTW, #9 isn’t actually made from books. They’re just made to look like books.

  13. Ros
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 08:20:52

    This is such a hot button for me. I am a crafter and a reader so I am torn in both directions. There is some really incredible art made from old books and some useful things which can be crafter from them too. I love lots of the examples you’ve chosen, Jane. I especially like the ones which reflect the nature of the material by referencing words or scenes from the book. And yet… there is a very loud voice deep inside me shouting out in horror whenever a book is destroyed. It’s not the paper and the cover – it’s the words and the worlds they represent. And yes, I know there are tons of books that no one is ever going to read again, and they might as well be used rather than destroyed. But, but, but they are still BOOKS. *sigh*

    As an aside, part of the M6 toll road that I regularly drive over uses recycled Mills and Boon books as part of its underlay. It makes me smile every time.

  14. Michelle
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 08:25:11

    The problem to me in the first instance was she bought a set of brand new hardcovers (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and destroyed them. I think that is different than using books that are at the end of their lifespan, moldy, or something wrong with them.

  15. Lizabeth S. Tucker
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 08:29:43

    My booklover heart hates seeing books destroyed, whether it is for art or stripping covers from paperbacks to send in to get credit for unsold books (luckily my boss never made me do that when I worked at bookstore). Is this art? Some of it definitely is, but a better way of recycling books is to donate them…to hospitals, to children, to prisoners, to soldiers, to senior homes. If, and only if, the book is unreadable should it be acceptable to destroy in the name of art or crafts.

  16. ms bookjunkie
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 08:43:18

    If you want to use books for decoration in a fun way and without hurting them, do what Ilona Andrews did: :)

  17. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 08:48:07

    I am honestly having a hard time trying to see the POV that every book is sacrosanct. Actually, I’m completely incapable of it.

    Books are not sentient, living, breathing beings no matter how people would like to anthropomorphize and/or fetishize them.

    And why is it horrible to purchase a new set of hardbacks to turn into art? Those books are to that artist are as new tubes of burnt umber. There are MLLIONS of other sets just like it in the stores and libraries. The words will not be lost to the eternities.

    Go search Google books and see the books from the late 19th and early 20th Century that are still around in paper form, but no one knows they exist and further, don’t care.

    I’m really rather appalled at the person who said it was like watching a murder. Likening the destruction of a book to the destruction of a human being? Really?

  18. dick
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 09:10:47

    It’s OK with me. I’ve used books as props under tables, as props to hold windows up, as a substitue for sand under snow-trapped wheels (work great, by the way). Why not as art?

  19. Annemarie
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 09:23:54

    It has more to do with the who than the what. Substitute the name “Lauren Conrad” with “Martha Stewart” and you have the exact opposite reaction.

  20. Lynn S.
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 09:35:19

    I’m a lightweight bibliophile with a penchant for good-looking trade-size paperbacks but, while physical books are many things to many different people, I don’t consider them sacrosanct. Someone really should write a book on the myriad and mysterious ways that fame can come around to bite you in the ass. Then Ms. Conrad could set her craft knife of doom loose on it.

    During the crafting heyday of the early 90s I bought vintage hardbacks from the junk store (kept the pretty ones for myself), decorated the covers of the rest and sold the heck out of them. I gave one to a fellow reader for Christmas one year. She loved it and actually read the book. Best c0-worker gift I ever gave.

    I want one of this guy’s sculptures; and I want to make one of these out of the naughty bits from Tipping the Velvet.

  21. April
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 09:45:20

    I like books. I also like crafts and book art, especially really good book art, but I saw the video and didn’t like it.

    I think what was so objectionable in the Conrad video, other than what Michelle pointed out — that Conrad went out and bought a new set of books and destroyed them — is that the craft involved wasn’t even particularly good. All she was doing was cutting off the spines and gluing them onto a box; the rest of the book was pretty much stacked in a pile on the side for “other” stuff. Most other book art actually use MOST of the book; the entire book is the art or craftwork, and it’s often very beautiful. I often find myself looking at them in awe at the craftsmanship.

    Plus, with the other book art, all you see is the finished product; you don’t see it in the process of being made, or you don’t see the book as it’s being “murdered.”

    So, for me, it was the whole package deal. Even though I love crafts and I love book art, I myself found the video distasteful. Lauren Conrad went out a bought a set of brand new books for the sole purpose of making her storage box, and then she only used a very tiny part of the book to make something that wasn’t even particularly beautiful or well-made — raggedly cut spines glued to a box, yay. Not only that but she recorded the entire process so we could all witness the horror of it.

    Imagine an early Native American watching the white man killing the buffalo for just the hide. There is no appreciation for the buffalo, no using all the parts, just a lot of wasteful killing. That’s what the video was like for me.

  22. Lisa Hendrix
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 09:50:00

    I make altered books—painting, cutting, folding, pasting, and tearing the pages of old, otherwise unwanted books to make them into something new and (when the stars align) beautiful or interesting. They’re not fabulous art like some of the books pictured above, but I enjoy doing it, and it feels like a complementary activity to my writing.

    And yet I cringed over Conrad’s video.

    The problem was that she cut up a perfectly good, new-looking, full set of the Lemony Snicket books that would have made some child insanely happy — to make a *box* (and a fairly crappy looking box, at that). To me, that was the crime: she destroyed books someone would have read and loved. If she’d used old ratty copies of chemistry handbooks, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. And I bet no one would have said a thing.

  23. theo
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 09:58:46

    Perhaps for many, it harkens back to the days when governments either promoted burning books or kept them under lock and key that only the elite should have access. Keeping the masses uneducated, that sort of thing. Who knows?

    I know on the one hand, I never like to see a book destroyed. There’s always an inquisitive mind somewhere thirsting for the knowledge within it. On the other, books as art are marvelous things as evidenced by the Edinburgh sculptor. (That tour has finally come about btw and is ongoing now.)

    On a side note, I’m curious as to what anyone could argue about with the book as a clutch other than once again, ‘destroying a book,’ and how it would affect copyright. It’s no different to me than giving or selling someone a used paperback to read other than these have a few modifications. But that’s just me.

  24. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:13:44

    You mean “sacrosanct” not sancrosant.

  25. Carrie
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:14:38

    Oh, please. It’s a book. Books are wonderful things, but they’re not sacred. If it’s a first edition or in some other way valuable, then obviously don’t make it into an iPad cover. But if it’s a mass produced book, one of thousands produced, then I really don’t see the problem. If someone wants to buy an entire set of A Series of Unfortunate Events and make them into something else, it won’t be as if the world has lost a one-of-a-kind set. I have one sitting on a shelf behind me, as do thousands of people across the country (world).

    Last week another stand of old trees near here, one that happened top house a pair of mated red tailed hawks, was bulldozed for yet another office complex (even though there are half vacant complexes all around it). Let’s stress about loss of habitat and not worry too much if a few books, of which there are probably many copies, get turned into art or even crafts. I thought the stuff was awesome.

  26. Jane
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:22:55

    @theo the buying of new books for the purpose of the craft might be wasteful but it isn’t comparable to killing an animal. A book isn’t sentient. The Lemony Snicket books are mass produced. I bought an entire set , like new, for $20 at a UBS for the tot.

  27. Michelle
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:33:17

    I never understood the whole don’t be upset about x because y is so much worse. Well yeah, who cares about authors behaving badly, who cares about readers, reviewers being outed on websites, I mean there are starving children around the world.

  28. theo
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:39:42


    I still don’t see how someone can argue copyright infringement though in making a cover out of a book. Or did you maybe click the wrong reply?

  29. Jane
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:39:53


  30. Janet W
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:49:18

    The buy new and destroy aspect seemed like conspicuous and lazy consumption — I’ve always liked decoupaging using found or old or garage sale treasures. And it’s not as if those Lemony books can’t be had for a song at a used book store. This is not to say I don’t treasure some older books (and not necessarily first editions). Anyone who has visited my “needs a librarian NOW lair” knows that I am ruled by books.

    What strikes me, again, is how little history anyone has when they describe the latest Horrible Happening. Who can forget Randolph Hearst having medieval manuscripts transformed into lampshades for his Hearst Castle. I say whatever. It’s always going to be a sliding scale. Remember the non-vegetable eater in Notting Hill who accused Hugh Grant of murdering carrots as Hugh popped one in his mouth. Obviously I think antiquities should be saved and treasured.

    But decorating with books, think of books by the yard … books have always been part of a well-decorated room … wasn’t that the first thing Cits did? Import yards and yards of books for their libraries? *exaggeration, of course–not insulting entrepreneurs versus aristos*

  31. Isobel Carr
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 10:54:44

    I have a book arts degree. I adore books. The physical object, the art of them, the skill it takes to make one beautiful. But honestly, mass-produced modern books don’t make the cut as sacrosanct objects for me. There are so many people making cool things out of them, like the book purses on etsy, which I kind of covet. It’s not like these books were rare, or even well made. They weren’t going to last hundreds of years like the ones from previous centuries.

  32. Miranda Neville
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 11:19:57

    Though I’d generally argue against destroying rare editions, there’s a long tradition of doing so. Many antique print framed on walls were originally published in books. In general a dealer will break up a poor or incomplete copy (known as a “breaker”) but if selling the prints separately makes more money, some booksellers will break up a complete copy in a good binding. I always cringed at that. The most spectacular example is of an incomplete Gutenberg Bible that was sold by the leaf. It means instead of one collector paying millions for the whole book, many can possess a single sample of the most famous book of all time. Some people were really bothered by it at the time. (Back in the Dark Ages, 1920s or earlier).

    As for ordinary books, my thinking has changed. I used to religiously keep every book I acquired. When my husband and I merged libraries we had a huge row about whose ratty paperback of The Catcher in the Rye should be thrown out. (We kept both.) Now I regularly weed my collection of anything I don’t think I”ll ever need again and donate them to the library sale or charity shop (where I’ve been know to re-buy my own books by mistake). Most modern books, especially fiction, are not in danger of becoming scarce so I can’t see the point of getting upset if they are treated as objects. I love the pictures in this post and would be proud to own some of these works of art. As an author, my little brain lights up with the words “royalties” and “second printing” when I think of someone buying lots of copies and making them into boxes, however hideous.

  33. DS
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 11:27:43

    I was flipping through some old books from an estate– tossing some that were terribly moldy, setting others aside for a library sale– and I found a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book from the year I was born (1955). Not attractive, not valuable and containing condensations of books that I had never even heard of. We set it aside. If we find more we are going to try to make a bookshelf out of them.

    I know from experience the library sale cannot even give them away– same with most old encyclopedias although I do have a set of the 11th ed Britannica that you couldn’t pry away from me.

    And OT: We also found one old cookbook that contained a recipe for roast opossum with dressing. I’ve seen a lot of recipes for cooking game– my father was a hunter and my grandmother could cook anything he shot any number of different ways– but this is the first possum recipe I have found in a published cookbook.

  34. Lady Jaye
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 11:27:52

    She bought the books with her money. And she didn’t do anything illegal with them. It is no one’s business how she uses them, whether or not the end result is “beautiful” or not.

  35. carmen webster buxton
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 11:32:53

    Before I started writing, I worked in visual arts— painting, sculpting, weaving— and I hated the fact that when I created something I loved, I could only profit from it by selling it. I suppose I could have gone into lithography, but one reason I love writing is that you can create something, sell it, and still possess it yourself! When it comes to making art or even useful items from books, I say go for it!

    Good look trying it with ebooks, though. :)

  36. willaful
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 11:56:41

    I’m glad you posted about this, Jane. Having worked in libraries, I’ve long since had to give up the idea that a book is a scared object. Some old books are treasures, but the vast majority eventually wind up as trash. I

    In this case, that video was using still popular books that didn’t look damaged, so I can understand people being upset. It probably wouldn’t have had the same impact using an old psychology textbook from the 1950s. (But then, of course, it wouldn’t be decorative.)

    Still, the physical form of a book is your possession and you’re not depriving the world of something irreplaceable, unless it’s a Gutenberg bible.

  37. heidenkind
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 14:28:50

    There’s an interesting video where Dettmer talks about books as physical objects versus their content and his inspiration when he makes art from them: He makes it pretty clear that even though he’s making the books unreadable, it’s not an act of wanton destruction or disrespect of the content. He also specifically addresses people who think of books as “alive” and consider his art destructive.

  38. Robin/Janet
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 15:02:46

    The worst thing about that Conrad video for me was the amount of work it seemed to take to make that box. Isn’t there an easier way to cut out all those pages?

    Sometimes I wonder: if there was as much passion about rampant illiteracy as there is about the sanctity of the book, how many more people would/could read.

  39. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 15:39:40


    Isn’t there an easier way to cut out all those pages?

    Table saw or guillotine (found in print shops).

  40. Sunita
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 16:19:46

    Just out of curiosity, do the people who think repurposing books is desecration realize what publishers do with unsold new books?

  41. cs
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 16:21:31

    Why is there so much outcry, if I paid for the book and no longer wanted it, then I can do what I want with it. Some of those designs are great and I actually like book art. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never cut up a book myself (considering I love paperbacks). But yeah, if you want to cut up an old Mills&Boons book for your own artsy pleasure then go right ahead. Someone deeming such thing a travesty is ridiculous. It would be different if people where cutting up precious one of a kind books. Not Harry Potter.

    I am assuming people are more upset about the authors, words being…tarnished by such crafts? I don’t know. However, those FaceBook comments on the Lauren Conrad video are ridiculous. You’d think she shot their cat and used its carcass as a design. I’m sure authors might get a little upset, fair dues – but anyone else to judge or comment on what you do with your own books is a little…crazy.

  42. Diana
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 18:23:09

    Book art is cool, I think. I don’t particularly understand why people think it’s harmful or destructive, either, to buy a new set of books and re-purpose them into something else. Particularly if it’s a mass produced book and not some “this is the only edition in the WORLD, ever” kind of book. Nothing’s lost, there. It’s like any other craft thing, in my opinion. Not worth the outrage.

  43. hapax
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 19:46:19

    Ditto-ing Willaful @36, for the point that working in libraries cures one pretty quick of seeing books as “sacred objects.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I love books, I love them as physical objects, I’ve posted often (here and elsewhere) about the marvelous sensual properties of the miraculous codex, that no e-book can replace.

    But I’ve also had to plow through crates of disgusting moldy old paperbacks, outdated textbooks, and indigestible ancient political screeds that people have donated to the library because they “simply couldn’t bear to throw books away.” I’ve had to sneak them into hidden dumpsters under the cover of darkness, so no taxpayer would have their sensibilities offended by librarians discarding “perfectly good books.”

    It’s sort of like when I worked in retail, and had to count money drawers daily. Although I still retain great respect for the value of a dollar, too much time handling the physical objects and they just become dirty bits of green paper.

  44. Ridley
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 20:23:23

    I think that anyone who sees book art and thinks it’s like murder should read this article about what happens to old library books no one checks out anymore.

  45. Meoskop
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 21:40:23

    Like a murder? Like a Native American watching the White Man slaughter buffalo?

    LC cut up books that are a buck each on the remainder table for a lame craft & these are the comparisons? I feel like Godwin was invoked via proxy.

    How do you feel when kids make beads out of magazines? Can you delete ebooks? Where does it become slaughter, exactly? I find the controversy ridiculous and the outrage overly precious, myself.

  46. Andrea
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 22:09:30

    I must admit I was more offended by the clumsiness of her cut and paste job than that a book was cut up.

    Irreplaceable, hand-lettered rareties, yes, that’s a problem. Mass produced books which are readily available in great numbers? Not so much.

    [She didn’t even paste the series on in the right order! The inner edges were all rough and uneven! And that flimsy little box would be incredibly front-heavy!]

  47. E-book, (Self-) Publishing Industry News by ebookmakr (Aug 18-20th, 2012) | @ebookmakr blog
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 23:30:53

    […] Jane of Dear Author on “Yea or nay on using books as crafts?”: “Are Paper Books Sacrosanct?“ […]

  48. April
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 23:49:35


    Like a murder? Like a Native American watching the White Man slaughter buffalo?

    LC cut up books that are a buck each on the remainder table for a lame craft & these are the comparisons? I feel like Godwin was invoked via proxy.

    Obviously, I didn't communicate myself well enough. It's called an analogy, and I'm not even equating Conrad with Hitler. Your equating my analogy with Godwin's law is almost meta-Godwin's law. Godwin's law to the second power. Applying Godwin's law to Godwin's law. Seriously.

    The other book artists and their art — there's a lot of craft to it, and though it makes some book lovers uncomfortable knowing that it meant the destruction of a book, there is a clear love of books evident in the craft. Brian Dettmer highlights the content of the book and elevates just the simple physicality of the book to another level. Then, there is Thomas Allen’s book art collage photography — lovely stuff! He cuts up book covers so that the characters painted on them are folded out, and he takes photos of them, giving the covers a more three-dimensional look to them. Then there are the sculptures shown above, where the book or the illustrations from the book is the main material in every case.

    You can tell these artists have a great love and appreciation for books, every aspect of them, every part of them. So their destruction of books is forgivable, even more so because they're using books no one wants to read any more, giving old, forgotten, and discarded books a new life and a new meaning, saving them from the trash pile.

    I don't know who Lauren Conrad is or how much she reads, but I really don't get the sense that she appreciates the book as well as the other book artists do. She bought new books — 

    — *tangent* (in response to other comments) and yes, I realize it's her own money, and she bought mass-produced books; but let's also not forget that she made and distributed a video of the whole thing, encouraging other people to do the same, to take their own money and buy mass-produced books for the purpose of creating a storage box with glued-on brand new book spines. It's as Janet W. says, "conspicuous and lazy consumption," especially given that paper/trees are a limited resource. Just because it's cheap and easy now to print a lot of books and just because there ARE so many books out there already, being burned by librarians or turning moldy on people's shelves, somehow doesn't make it seem right. Why brand new books with a lot of life still in them? Why books that people still want to read? Just because they're not rare first editions? Because there's already so many of them in circulation?

    Once upon a time, books were handmade, and when the Gutenberg press came out, books made on presses were considered mass-produced. How many of those first books are around now?

    Once upon a time, movies were made out of celluloid, and studios made so many films, they ran out of storage space. First off, celluloid is highly flammable, and a lot of old films were lost due to fires, but did you know some studios actually burned some old silent films on purpose to make room for new stuff? As a result, we've lost many of those films forever.

    Once upon a time, a TV network taped over the first seasons of The Tonight Show because there were SO many episodes, and they ran out of tape and room to store it in.

    In other words, yeah, the books are abundant NOW. But what happens years down the line, when books will not be as cheap to make, especially in an age of ebooks, and everyone wonders where it all went? It's the never-ending argument between archivists and people who have to deal with the practicality of storage. The first group thinks everything is sacrosanct, and the second group thinks there's no room, throw it out. Too bad we can't ask the later generations; they're the only ones who truly lose out.

    But whatever, that's so totally not my point. I can argue that one either way. *end tangent* —

    — still, she bought new books, chopped off all but the spines and a bit of the gutter margins, then glued those spines to a plain white box. Whereas with the other artists, I get a sense that they appreciate the true meat of a book — its content, its artwork, the physicality of its pages and covers — with LC, the sense I get is that the only true interaction she gets with books is that she looks at the spines on other people's bookshelves.

    I mean … she doesn't even include a front and back cover for the sides of the storage box, for crying out loud. It's almost as if she's not the sort of person who would even think to pull out a book from its place on the shelf just to run a curious eye over the artwork or blurb.

    So … here is where my Native American analogy came in and why I used it. The early Native Americans, when they hunted, they prayed to the world around them and thanked them for the coming bounty, the feast, the gift that their prey would provide. Then, they used every part of what they killed in everything that they did and used and ate and wore. They fully understood how precious was the creature they killed. There was no guilt or horror in the killing, but there was an appreciation for it, a gratitude and respect. They exalted it and gave its parts new life, as food, as clothing, etc. They couldn't understand the white man's need to kill buffalo just for their hides. So many buffalo killed, and so much wasted. These newcomers took the hides and left the corpses by the hundreds and thousands. The white man's justification? There's plenty of buffalo, plenty enough for everyone.

    LC taking the spines and leaving the rest of the book? Ugh. Her making a video of it so others can do the same? Double ugh.

    She couldn't have gone to the printing presses and asked for discarded material? She couldn't have grabbed the spines off misprinted books? Those would have gone to the recycling bin anyway. Why not do that instead? She bought those books to destroy them. Me, the last books I bought, I bought for my niece so I could teach her how to read.

    Reminds me a little bit of Elizabeth Lowell's Fever — the heroine patched up some pairs of jeans that she saved from a teenager looking to discard them, and when the teenager saw how cool those patches looked on those old, worn jeans, she went out and bought some brand new jeans and proceeded to put patches on them. (Perhaps that's a better, more acceptable analogy than the Native American one?)

    I design books. I buy books. I read books. I trade them, give them away, get far too many of them for free. And though I understand why other people do it, I've never thrown them out or burned them. I even take good care of books I hate (Ayn Rand, anyone?), and I also keep duplicates, which I eventually give away to friends and family. I have thought about making a craft with a couple of books one day; one of the books I had in mind for a craft was If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon, which was a favorite of mine as a kid, so the craft would have had extra meaning for me; the copy I read as a kid belonged to my mom, so I bought a copy for myself, except it turned out to be a misprint — some pages were repeated, and others were missing. I kept it anyway, as a misprinted book is an ideal candidate for crafting, until I lost it to Goodwill in my last move.

  49. MikiS
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 00:23:44

    As long as they’re not cutting up rare volumes that aren’t digitized, who cares? The people who get crazy about this should watch when paperback returns are done…it’ll curl their hair!

  50. Susan
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 00:51:01

    I confess that I do hold books in reverence and part of me cringes at the thought of destroying/defiling them. That said, LC using non-rare/non-valuable books for craft purposes doesn’t even merit a blip on my outrage-o-meter. As others have noted, books get dumped in the trash or pulped by the boatload. It’s not the same as Torah bonfires or cutting up a Shakespeare first folio. Get some perspective, people.

    In addition to the ones shown here, there are many more amazing book-based craft/art projects on Etsy. Check them out without guilt!

  51. April
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 01:33:09

    Well … I give up in the face of so much apathy, then. This video and the video I saw of so many old pianos being dumped at a landfill (people had the nerve to point out to me that new electric pianos never need tuning), both of which I saw in the same month, just make me sad for the state of civilization today. We’re living in the Brave New World, where everything is meant to be thrown away. I still wear clothes that are over 20 years old, so I guess I’m an anachronism.

  52. BRNZ
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 02:13:34

    Obviously a hot button, so Im not going to touch the politics of this one, but I would like to share this link, of wonderful book carving off my fave art blog Colossal Art

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  54. Castiron
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 09:53:40

    @Sunita: Bingo. The first time I saw a pallet of new, unsold books waiting to be dumped, it was painful. By the fifth time, I was more distressed by the fact that we’d printed too damn many and wasted the paper; the idea that books were going to be destroyed didn’t even blip on my radar. And there’s been a few badly out-of-date titles that I was actively glad to see go to the recycling bin.

    (I still get a twinge when I send an old book with a beautiful binding out for destructive scanning, but at least it means the contents are going to have a new life.)

  55. P. Kirby
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 12:20:38

    On the scale of shite that matters to me, turning mass-produced books into art or tea cozies, or whatever, rates just a tic above what some reality TV star is doing. As in abysmally low.

    As folks have noted, a big chunk of these books end up in the trash anyway, or will be destroyed by a toddler, or eaten by the dog.

  56. Meoskop
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 12:31:33

    @April yes, I am familiar with the use of Buffalo in Native
    American culture, and I understood the fetishization implicit in the comparison of one to the other. Thanks for that, though.

    I still highly doubt the Crafters have come to destroy the Book Tribe and their way of life. Brand new books ‘die’ every day without caring. That’s how the industry is structured. In the Conrad model someone gets paid first. That will keep the Book Tribe alive longer than death by remainder.

  57. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 12:40:15


    Well … I give up in the face of so much apathy, then.

    Yanno, this has been bugging me since I read it. I was going to let it go, but I can’t.

    Why are you demanding everyone else should care as much about this as you do, complete with overblown hyperbole?

    So to be equally offensive: It’s a stack of paper. Get over it.

  58. Ridley
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 13:02:17


    1300+ words dripping with condescension

    Cool story bro.

  59. April
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 14:28:51

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Yanno, this has been bugging me since I read it. I was going to let it go, but I can’t.

    Why are you demanding everyone else should care as much about this as you do, complete with overblown hyperbole?

    You don’t get it, do you? I said I give up. I’m not demanding you care at all. I give up the argument. You win. The books don’t matter. The waste doesn’t matter. There’s not a whole lot anyone can do, least of all myself. I’m just sad many people don’t care. That’s all. I’m just sad people point out the already existing regular destruction of books by bookstores and libraries, as if that makes it all OK. It’s the same kind of sad I felt when a cashier rolled his eyes at me for whipping out my reusable shopping bags, rolled his eyes at me for my earnestness, my desire to do all that *I* can do to help the environment, and told me that it was pointless — it’s just a few shopping bags, big deal, doesn’t make a dent at all, not when manufacturers everywhere package everything in plastic anyway and SO many bottles and cans get dumped in landfills every year. It’s the apathetic and indifferent spreading their apathy and indifference to everyone around them, so fatalistic, scorning those with any passion left at all, or any will to try and do something or stir other people up to try and do something, forgetting those in the third world countries who might in the end be the most affected by the jaded and uncaring. At the same time, so smug in their uncaring — get over it, they say. It’s a set of books. There are millions of them.

    Condescension, indeed.

    You all win.

  60. Sirius
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 20:59:55

    @April: I kind of hear you, but not quite – note, just describing how I feel personally. I have no emotion whatsoever about what other people do with *their* books. Now, my books, especially the books which I feel helped me cope with tough times, entertained me over the years, occupy special place in my heart, etc would I ever want to destroy them? Absolutely not. Is it personification of the objects? Probably I suppose, but for example amongst my two humongous bookcases in my appartment I have few books which I sent here by mail to my relatives before we came to live to US. We sold almost all our humongous library, but there were books I could not bear to part ways with, even realizing that New York has everything, including any kind of Russian books. Nope, they are not getting destroyed while I am alive :). I have almost no place on my book shelves, so these days I buy paperbacks *very* rarely, and believe me I learned to love my kindle very very much, the joy of not making my very heavy bag even heavier alone is worth it, but there are books which for me remain in paperback and only talk to me while in paperback (the books I have had for a while – the new books of all genres are talking to me in the ebook form quite nicely, thank you very much :))

    So, basically I guess what I am saying I really do not care and absolutely do not feel passionately to even suggest to other people what they should or should not do with their books, but am never going to be a fan of doing the book art from my books, if that makes sense? Not that I will be able to do those things on the pictures of course – some of them are quite beatiful to me.

  61. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 21:43:35


    You don’t get it, do you?

    I get that you have spent this entire thread berating everyone who does not share your view of the importance of books. And…you’re still doing it.

  62. Ann Somerville
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 22:06:21

    I gave up any lingering bibliophic tendencies I might have had when a former friend of mine – a Folio Books subscriber and a book hoarder of the worst kind – bought a copy of Hemingway’s collected novels from Folio bound in elephant skin.

    No text, no novel, no work of man is worth killing an elephant over.

    And having humped a collection of books from australia to England, then more books in four moves there, then even more books back here to Aus where they are a largely unread ginormous pain in the arse storage wise because my husband would rather die than give up a single paper book….

    I say paper books are just a means of transmission. Wanking about them is like wanking about old computers or mobile phones. Some very special editions with hand made covers are literal works of art and should be preserved. But otherwise I say, digitise them and turn them into origami. Or buffalo food, if that’s your preference.

  63. Sirius
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 22:16:52

    Ann Sommerville – totally feel your pain about moving so many paperbacks. Out of hundreds books in our collection back in Ukraine I brought here probably thirty and sending three parcels here was a lot of money . I can relate to your husband as well though – parting ways with so many books was painful – even if I repurchased a lot of them here. Completely agree about the elephant I have to say and while as I mentioned I do not care for making an art out of my books – totally respect if other people want to do that with theirs.

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