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37+ Ideas for Recycling Reader's Digest Condensed Books

Last week, the "librarian" in our community complex got in touch with me to tell me that they had a number of old Reader's Digest Condensed Books and other hardbacks they were culling from the library in our community building.

Knowing that I am always on the lookout for books, she asked if I would be interested in them. She estimated that there were around 50 of them! All I had to do was take them away. "WOW", I thought, "What a find. Can't turn this offer down."

Later on that day, I went down to the community building to see just what kind of condition they were in. Even though some of them were 40 years plus old, most were all in pretty good condition. They had been taken care of by their owners over the years before they were donated.

I estimated that there were about 70 or 80 of them! But where would I put them all? And, what would hubby say when I came home with yet even more books? My first thought was to share them with other artists in my art groups. Then I remembered Canada Post's mail charges. They charge an arm and a leg to mail stuff and it just wouldn't be feasible. Scratch that idea!

I have to admit, my second thought was to hide them somewhere! LOL A secret stash! I figured that hubby might have a fit if he came in the door and saw a gazillion books lying around. But hubby and I don't keep secrets from each other (it's just another reason why we have such a successful marriage) so I made the decision to talk to him about it when he came home that evening. I figured out where I could put them... on a long shelf that leads down to our family room and my art "playroom".

Surprise, surprise. He agreed with me that they were a find, as long as I could come up with something I could do with them and actually use them (not just having them sit there doing nothing for the next ten years).

I told him about putting the "call" out to the art groups I belong to for ideas... Altered Books, Art Techniques, Art EZine Cafe and the Latest Trends and showed him the list of ideas I had compiled from the input of my fellow artists. "Okay", he said, "I'll help you bring them home."

When we started loading them into the trunk of our car, I realized that I had grossly underestimated just how many there actually were. In the end, we brought home 120 of them!

I couldn't get them all into one photo for you. It's pretty impressive when you actually see it. But to give you an idea of just how much book shelf space they took up.... that shelf is 10 feet wide and when we ran out of room we had to start double stacking them! Here's a photo of just some of them:

So, now what?


First, I know that there are some people who get very upset at the thought of altering books. Some books lovers think it is a sin! If you can't bear the thought of dissecting a book for its parts, then this blog post is not for you. If you have some books and would like to clear out some of your collection, I'd suggest giving them to a local nursing home or perhaps a "traveling" hospital library.

However, be that as it may, I can tell you that RDCB's are not suitable for altering as in "altered books". The spines are week, the paper is poor and not the best quality for altering. They just will not stand up to rigor of some art techniques when transforming them from a book that no one seems to want into something wonderful filled with gorgeous art.

Most public libraries do not keep Reader's Digest Condensed Books on their shelves. Many libraries will not even accept them as a donation. However those that do will often give them away "gratis" to patrons who want them.

A quick search of e-Bay revealed that although there are many of them listed for sale from anywhere from $1.00 to $5.00 a book, there is a distinct lack of any bidding going on. Charity thrift stores in our area sell them in the same price range as E-bay and have racks of them that have been there for years.

Although they may look "good" on a shelf because of their colourful covers, both my book loving hubby and I agree... they may have some good stories in them, but they are not well made "quality" books.

We both believe they were originally made for the "masses" to encourage people to read and purchase the books at a price much lower than the original hardbacks of the featured stories in each edition. However, once read, they languish on book shelves for years and finally like many worn out paperbacks, they land on a garage sale table, get sent to the landfill or (hopefully) to a paper recycling plant.

I like to think that re-purposing these RDCB books is making lemonade out of lemons. We book artists "salvage" what we can that is still usable, infusing new life into the elements and present them, once again for people's enjoyment, in a different form.

There are many things you can do to recycle these "unwanted" hardback books into your art. Here are some "re-purposing" ideas the very talented artists in my art groups and I came up with...

1. Gut the book. Use the paper to make paper beads, as scrap paper to try out new art techniques or as scrap paper at your art table for cleaning your paint brushes (and making serendipity papers).
2. Cut the paper up to use as "text" backgrounds in collage for cards, collage or use as wrapping paper for small gifts.
3. Sew or tape the paper together to get big sheets. You can use the sheets on your art table as a cover up when painting, for a barbeque tablecloth or wrapping bigger gifts.
4. Salvage the illustrations in the book for future use in your artwork.
5. Cut out the book titles. They used some interesting fonts when typesetting the books.
6. Some of the earlier books have wonderful, coloured end papers made from quality paper. Salvage them!
7. Save the bookplates from the front of earlier editions of RD books to use in your art. Recycle them into "modern" bookplates with the addition of some art work. Check on the web to find out whether or not these bookplates are collectibles. Many bookplates are. If they are, I'd love to hear from you. I've been too busy writing this article to check this out myself!
8. Many of the later editions have colourful covers. Photograph them and use them to create background papers in a graphic program.
9. The "bookboard" on the covers is very strong and the colourful backgrounds on some RDCB's make great backdrops for collage.
10.On some of the older, padded covers from the 60's, the "chipboard" beneath the outer cover has a thin layer of foam glued to it. Although you can't take the foam off, you could re-use the padded chipboard for "mini quilt" creations or anything that you want a padded surface for.
11. Some of the RDBC books came encased in an outer cardboard case. You can leave these outer cases as is and alter them, give them a nice new look with a coat of paint, use the light cardboard and the coloured end papers for diecuts, embossing with a cuttlebug, etc.
12. Use the block of paper in the book to make a book sculpture. Check out this photo show from artist Terri Noell , one of the very talented artists in my group, for inspiration.
13. Remember those angels, snowmen and Santa Claus' from the 70's and 80's made with the RD magazine? Well they are back! Do a search on the Internet for how to directions.
14. Stack the books up, drill a hole through the center of the book piles, insert a hollow metal rod and make a "book" lamp. You can also glue the books together in a random fashion before drilling for a more interesting arrangement.
15. Stack the books, drill a hole for a dowel through the center and use for table legs. You can paint them or leave them as is.
16. Use the covers as a canvas for collage and art plaques to hang on the wall.
17. Cut a hole in the center of the book cover and use to frame a photograph or art piece.
18. Glue the pages of the book together. Hollow out to make a book "case" for your treasures, a sewing box, a jewelry case, a love letters box, a "book safe" for hiding keys, important stuff you want to keep from prying eyes!
19. Glue the pages together and make a "book shrine".
20. Glue the cover and the book pages together. Cut an opening in the book cover and cut a niche in the book pages (just like in tip 18) for a shallower "display" area.
21. Make a book display. Open the book up in the middle. Letting the book pages fall naturally, glue the pages together on the right side, repeat on the left side so that you have an open book. When dry, decorate the book. When you are finished you can lay a copy of a favourite poem on the open book. Makes a nice display for a wedding invitation, Golden anniversary memento, special photograph, etc...
22. Cut out same sized figures from the book pages and use them in an altered book for pop ups, families, etc.
23. Cut out the titles of books and mix together for a collage of letters.
24. Found some vegetable illustrations in your RDCB book? Cut them out and make a pop up garden.
25. Turn your RDCD book into a purse. This particular article is geared towards a steampunk costume accessory, but it could be used in lots of ways.
26. Heather, who works in a library with children and young folks, sent along the instructions for a handmade journal she made in a workshop with the younger, budding artists set

"... we ripped out the guts and then added in blank pages to fill it- voila handmade journals with 'professional' covers. One girl went home, printed off a whack of daytimer pages and made another (journal) to use as her school agenda. To bind the pages together. we used regular paper (misprints, scrap sheets ) cut in half, clamped the pages to keep the edges even and glued away, applying a muslin strip to the wet glue for added strength and hold, created endpapers and used those to add the new guts. As these were to be notebooks for random notes/jottings, the partially used/printed sheets didn't cause any problems. Finally the covers were embellished/personalised. These random papers/covers books make great glueboooks. of course these can be done with any hardcover, not just RDCB's"

27. Use the books in assemblages.
28. Pile them up, put a board on top and use it as a shelf.
29. Use the gutted book cover (with the spine still attached) as a birdhouse roof in an assemblage.
30. Use a cover to make a very large postcard. Wouldn't that make a great mail art postcard?
31. Make "book board" out of the paper. Just glue and layer a number of pages together!
32. Use as a tablet for gluing smaller items. When you are done, just rip out the used page. You can also use old phone books if you don't have a RDCD.
33. Make a stationery holder with a cover. Make the cover pretty, add a pocket to the front and back for paper and envelopes.
34. Some of the later books have dust covers printed on good quality glossy paper. The dust jackets feature the covers of the original books that appear in the condensed book and use some interesting fonts. They could be "salvaged" to use in your artwork.
35. Look at these marvelous book vases created by Laura Cahill. What a great idea!
36. Jim Rossenau makes the coolest bookcases and book shelves you have ever seen. I've been a fan of his since I first saw his website a year or so ago. Visit his site, This into That to take a look at his funky creations.
37. Read this article about Book Lovers at MIT who make furniture out of books!

There are a wealth of sites that you can visit on the web. When you have a few minutes, go on a search to discover some of them!

So there you have it... 37 plus ways for you and I to use those unwanted books!

Stay tuned... I am already working on my first paper sculpture! Terri inspired me to take a crack at it!

Thanks again to all the artists who sent me emails privately or posted their ideas and suggestions to our group.... Pam x 2, Heather, Gale, Elizabeth, Terri, Lisa, Maxine, Bonnie, Alicia, Mary, Lee, Cathy, Ellen, Theresa, Kathy, and Cindy. I hope I haven't missed anyone! If I have just know that your contribution was much appreciated!

Have a great week... A Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers. Wishing you great bargains on "Black Friday"!

Hopefully I will get to posting on Friday but can't promise. It's a very busy week this week... heating up for the Christmas party season already... have three invitations this week, two of them before Friday!

Sharon

15 comments:

  1. Phew! I'm exhausted just reading all you can do! Thanks, Sharon.

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  2. Holy Cow! What a fabulous bunch of books for you to alter and a wonderful list of ideas! Thanks for sharing these with us! Post pics of your creations when you get them done! Have fun!

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  3. Sharon...you should do a Twitter or How.com article.
    Connie

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  4. The discarded pages could also be used in papermaking projects. I use recycled papers as is or with color added. I like it when some of the print shows.

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  5. Sharon, this is amazing!!! You really took the time to compile all of these ideas? Bless you!

    May I post something on my blog and link back to this?

    Thanks again,you're the best!

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  6. I love all you ideas! I too, like the Readers Digest book for my art. The canvas "redo" on my blog was done using the pages torn from the condensed books. Thanks for the additional ideas

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  7. Not sure I saw this in the list:
    Kelly Kilmer uses reclaimed book covers as art journal covers you can see one here:
    http://kellykilmer.blogspot.com

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  8. Such a wonderful compilation! A crafty bibliophile who is a retired librarian steered me to your site (Thanks, Louise!), and I love these ideas! Many are old favorites, and I've used most of them, but the book vases are a new thought to me (I HAVE made Christmas ornaments using the same concept). Right now, my favorite use is making beads, though I AM partial to the book purses (generally I prefer college textbooks for a larger purse profile.)

    The handsomest use for them, I think, is the book bookshelves. Jim Rosenau from the ThisintoThat website makes fantastic shelves, but he generally chooses books by their titles, and since I use freebies leftover from the Friends of the Library book sale, I don't have that luxury. Well, mine even won a blue ribbon at our county fair! We have so much fun being environmentally responsible, don't we?!

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  9. You've probably heard of this one:
    For the soft covered RD booklets, we used to make Christmas trees out of them. After removing the covers, fold the tops toward the center, then the bottoms toward the center of each page. Because they are rectangular, they take on a conical shape. When finished, they can be spray painted green and glued with pom-poms or other decorative items, or sprayed with fake snow.

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  10. I love the idea for making a little village of little houses from RD books. This will be the perfect project for me to do with my granddaughters this summer on my porch. I can just see it now! The houses will be inhabited by their littlest pet shop creatures!

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  11. I guess I'm weird, but I actually like to read Reader's Digest condensed books.

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  12. These are great recycling ideas for these old books! These suggestions are surely helpful in minimizing paper waste. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. This is something different from the current topic.

    I am a lover of books and had a good collection of novels, readers digests for more than 15 years and few condensed books. But recently storing these books has become a problem. Since year 2000 I stopped buying books and started collecting information and e-books from internet.

    I am a lover of RD condensed books and I would gladly like to have them in the form of e-books.

    I feel sad to loose the original print editions going to oblivion. These books one day become very rare books and the value will multiply. The only way is to convert them to E-books and then they can be put to your ideas.

    Thanks and Regards
    Rao Devulapally

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  14. thanks for sharing

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