Published 14 February 2016 ● Last Updated on 1 October 2020

The smell of old books – if only they could bottle that in a perfume! I still remember where I inhaled the strongest smell of sepia I’ve ever encountered.

It was at my college library’s mezzanine floor. The upper and lower floors of our library catered to academicians and serious commerce students. Unknown to me, in a makeshift floor betwixt, lay a lost world tucked away from well-thumbed curriculum guides. Its only connection to the main hall was a backstair that I accidentally climbed down. That’s how I arrived at a windowless, dusty room and found the mustiness of old musings – a whiff of part sweetness, part decay.

I thumbed through Pygmalian here, Madame Bovary there. And sighed. And read standing. And fell in love with the feel of old paper between my thumbs…

…Which is why I find it impossible to do away with the dictionary my father got me when I was in school. I don’t use it anymore – it is so much easier to grab my phone and find the meaning / pronunciation / etymology / anything with a few clicks of my fingers! But it is so refreshingly old, and I love that! Besides, the reverence my parents instilled in me for dictionaries and encyclopedias continues strong – I don’t have the heart to send it in for recycling, nor to tear it apart in the various ruthless book-hacks involving bookmarks, wrappings, shelves, etc!

If you too have a dictionary (or any old tome) tucked away in your bookshelf that you cannot let go (even though you don’t read it any more), here are some easy book hacks to help you get back the old friend into your daily living! The best part? These easy ideas require no DIY; all you do is re-purpose old books to give them new meaning.

#1 Dress it up for a display
I have shamelessly (and gratefully) copied this idea from a Balinese boutique I visited earlier this year. The store had a small collection of vintage rings, all of it arranged within the fanned, yellowing pages of a classic novel. In this ingenious display, the gems had found a perfect partner to show off their grace.

If you have a dressing table (and no toddlers or magpies in the house!), it’s the loveliest way to keep your jewels handy. Here’s what I did with my collection:Ye olde dictionary! 4 book hacks to repurpose old books. Use them to display your rings!Alternately, you could keep it in your living room and arrange Polaroid photographs within the folds. (just prop up the bottom folds with clean pebbles, or funky coasters so the photographs face up). I cannot imagine a better conversation piece for the living room!Ye olde dictionary! 4 book hacks to repurpose old books. Use them to display your Polaroid photographs!

#2 Stack up as a table

If you have not one, but many, many hardbacks to repurpose, and your shelf has begun to creak under their weight – the best way out is to choose the heaviest and largest books – and pile them up on the floor. Arrange them in a spiral, not too high, and ensure strong balance. Ta da! Your table is ready already!

A single pile table is absolutely perfect to place between two floor cushions. Or, as pictured here, in a carpeted corner, with a mood piece on top.Ye olde dictionary! 4 book hacks to repurpose old books. Stack them to make a table!But if your stockpile is much larger and you’ve hoarded way too many comics and paperbacks, you can go for a coffee table approach. The books don’t need to be hardback in this case. Just stack them up in multiple columns, arranged as a square / rectangle, and up to equal height. Measure the length and breadth of your stockpile, add about 10 cm to these dimensions, and order thick beveled glass. With that atop – voila! – your coffee table is ready!

#3 Bookmark holder

If you love books, I bet you have lots of quaint bookmarks to show for it – even if you have graduated to a kindle! Admit it – am I wrong? Luckily, bookmarks are not a relic yet. Thanks to libraries, birthday gifts and occasional impulses, we keep getting real books, and continue to use bookmarks in our daily lives… until we lose them of course – coz seriously, how many of us have a handy place to keep them?!

That’s where a well-thumbed book comes in – the thicker, the better. Fill it up with your bookmark collection. And find it a resting place next to your favourite reading chair, or (if you want to show off the placeholders!) at your coffee table.Ye olde dictionary! 4 book hacks to repurpose old books. Use them to store bookmarkers!#4 Leave a note

This one is sorta vandalism, but if you are okay to scribble in your dictionary (seriously, you must have written down book margins once upon a time!), it’s fun too! All you have to do is pick a page and create some art. It could be a doodle, or stencil work, or an icon, or a quotation – really anything – just use a colour pencil. (And go to Pinterest if you can’t think of an original idea!)

With Valentine’s Day today, I was inspired to think romantic. I used icon/ pop imagery to get a simple message across – you could mark it out for your loved one with a rose on any special day – perhaps his/her birthday, or your anniversary. Seriously, finding a secret note is just so much better than a getting a greeting card, or a whatsapp message!Ye olde dictionary! 4 book hacks to repurpose old books. Use them to leave romantic notes for your partner!I hope you try out these ideas. Old books carry that elusive fragrance of nostalgia that nothing else can replicate. So drag that old dictionary out of that dusty bookshelf and add it back to your life!

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