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It’s World Book Day, a global celebration of books and reading which has been held annually since the 1990s but now sits on different dates depending on the country in which you live, which to be honest seems like a shame and something that could easily have been avoided, but hey, hooray for books, and not just because they’re enjoyable to read but also because of their other, often-overlooked uses, such as the ones in this old letter from English novelist Ford Madox Ford to a newspaper editor who’d asked him to write a piece on “the uses of books.”
*gasps for breath*
This letter reminds me of the time a stranger sent me a photo of his broken toilet, beneath which, acting as some kind of raised base, were copies of my first three books (special editions fyi). He told me they were the only books he owned that were strong enough to hold the combined weight of his toilet and body and wanted to thank me for their sturdy dimensions. I genuinely felt proud. If you’ve ever used a book in an odd way (no murders please), leave a comment beneath this post. If nobody complies I can always pretend I never asked and just try to carry on with my life.
14th Sept 1929
My dear Schneider,
I see no reason in principle why I should not write for the Philadelphia Inquirer what you request, but I wish you could send me a specimen of what is wanted—because books can be useful from so many points of view. In my early days, for example, I used the Encyclopedia Britannica as a trouser-press and certainly the house that was without it was to be pitied. Books are also very useful for pulping; bibles and other works set over the heart will deflect bullets; works printed on thin india paper are admirable if you happen to run out of cigarette papers. Their use for that purpose is in fact forbidden in France where there is a tobacco monopoly. In fact, if you are ever without a book you are certain to want one in the end. For the matter of that, my grand aunt Eliza Coffin used to say: “Sooner than be idle, I’d take a book and read.” According to her the other uses of books were (1) for the concealing of wills; (2) for the ditto of proposals of marriage by letter; (3) for pressing flowers; (4) folios piled one on the other will aid you to reach the top row in the linen cupboard; (5) they have been used as missiles, as bedsteads when levelly piled, as wrappings for comestibles; (6) as soporifics, sudorifics, shaving paper etc.
I was once accused of using slices of bacon, at breakfast, to mark my place in a book. That is untrue.
It is alleged that the reading of books will improve intelligences capable of improvement. By keeping their eyes on the pages of books ladies may avoid the too ardent glances of admirers in public conveyances. The reading of books in small print is advised for friends of oculists, spectacle makers, and breeders of dogs sufficiently docile to lead their owners on strings. The purchase—the reading is optional—of books enables publishers to ride in Rolls-Royces. House-decorators find that books work into rooms with admirable effect… This is all I can think of to say about books. Oh, one wishes that one’s enemy would write books. One could not wish him a worse fate.
Above must be 200 words.
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My husband uses big books to press tofu before grilling . . . and what would we do without books to raise our laptops to just the right level for a flattering look on Zoom?
Big gardening books really come into their own as presses to use while drying out the most recent book one of my children has spilt a drink over... My mother-in-law, who was a librarian, genuinely found a rasher of bacon being used as a bookmark. And I used to work in an archive where you really could have committed GBH with some of our volumes; the heaviest weighed over 5 stone. (And if you think that’s big, you should look at the Codex Amiatinis...)