Books as Objects: Artifacts and Armaments

January 14, 2009 | 2

If you thought books were just to read – to entertain, educate or enlighten – then think again.

Macleans Magazine ran a piece recently on a little bookshop in Old Montreal that displays its wares as museum-pieces. Librissime offers Dante’s Divine Comedy, “bound in buttercream-white calfskin leather, a hand-chiseled brass rendering of the crossing of the River Styx by Italian sculptor Alessandro Kokocinski on its cover.” Priced at $36,200, it “looks best bathed in indirect halogen light.” The thinking behind all this is that the prospective customer has already read the book, and now “wants to honour it by turning it into art.” If you are indeed brave enough to walk in off the street, and if something on display catches your eye, apparently gloves will be required before daring to touch the “artified memento.”

At the other, more utilitarian, end of the spectrum, books can be a handy substitute for a weapon. A number years ago I was visiting my friend Doug in Britain. He’d been living with friends in a big old house, and in that life of dilapidated grandeur, a music room of sorts was doubling as his bedroom. I was asleep on a futon at one end off the room; Doug was slumbering on a mattress at the other end. Evidently my snoring became so unbearable that Doug awoke, picked up the closest object – a hardcover book – and with remarkable and unprecedented marksmanship, he propelled the book across the room toward my invisible bull’s-eye, clonking me in the head, silencing my snoring, and returning peace and quiet to the South London night.

More Books as Objects: Limited Editions, A List of Bookish Objets, Books by the Foot, The Ultimate Prop

is a writer in Toronto, Canada, and passes his days as a copy editor with The Globe and Mail. He spends his moments of leisure listening to music, reading, watching films and prowling the streets of Toronto, and he feels that he is long-overdue for a vacation so that he can do more of those things. At any given time, he is probably pining for distant shores and really should do more traveling and less pining.


  1. So long as you read it, I care not what you do with a book. In that case I'd always prefer to see it used as a weapon than an untouchable artefact.

    As it happens, an old teacher of mine, Johannes Speyer, once slayed a magpie with a lexicon.

  2. Currently I am using a book as object- holding up a leg of a much loved antique baby grand. After reading your post I ran to see what book it was, Prep is now a prop…and as a novel has found its proper place.

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