Deconstructing Books: Physical Methods

Here comes the wrecking ball.  POOM.

Paper explodes into dust.  Words scatter into the air, lost from the syntax that held their meaning.  Thousands of individual syllables are carried on the wind, later to be joined together by new sentences and paragraphs. 

Some of these are written by a cohort of monkeys eagerly manning typewriters.  Having already captured the wit of Shakespeare, they have moved on a few hundred years and attempt to recreate the Funniest Joke In The World sketch by Monty Python.

The above is just one form of book deconstruction.

I practice the art popularized during the Napoleonic era.  After the French Revolution, guillotine makers and sharpeners were out of work, so they developed other uses for such blades. Over the past few hundred years, this has developed into a motorized blade that slices through the spine of a book.

My cousin, HAL, went on a trip to Jupiter a few years ago.

It is both a spectacular and heart-breaking event.

The books enter the machine.

A laser guide lines up along their edge, marking the blade’s path.

And then: Whirr.  Thunk.

The book has been sliced.

Forever separating page from spine.

For some it is a therapeutic method after having uninteresting books above their reading level foisted upon them.  For others, it is a satisfying alternative to tossing a book across the room in pure, passionate hate   These seems useful for the author of a a recent Freshly Pressed post titled, “Need To Torture Someone, Just Grab One Of These Books…” 

With a turn of the blade, this torture can be reversed.  Bear in mind, however, chopping the spine off a book also increases chances of a paper-cut.  Such violence is a vicious cycle.

However, as with all tools, they can be used for good and for evil.

In the disability services office of a public university where I work, chopping or slicing books is one of the services I provide.  With the sacrifice of a book’s spine, a world is opened up to students and people that never had the opportunity to truly meet and understand the book.  Understandably, some students get very excited:

This student was so excited, she brought me a cupcake!

With the spine gone, the pages are separate pieces of paper.  The pages are scanned in a high-quality scanner, and the words are rejoined together in PDF format.

It is a happy, celebratory moment, and the beginning of the book’s second life.

In this second life, the book is OCR’d (processed so a computer can read physical words as text) and then processed again by a text-to-speech software.  With these steps complete, the book can now be read and understood by people who are have visual impairment, trouble with dyslexia, or learning disabilities.

The book is then returned to the student, who can have it rebound by a copy shop, and the book begins a third life in a new form.

The remnants of deconstructed books

Since our office is left with the spine, I think I might follow the example of this blog and start doing Book Spine poetry.

NOTE: We do contact a few databases and the publisher to acquire the book in electronic format before chopping the spine of a book.  We try to protect books as best as possible, and prevent them from becoming an endangered species.


1. Hire a ninja to chop a book.

2. Lawn mower or other multi-bladed machine

3. Slice along the spine with a box knife, and then split apart.

4. Put peanut butter between pages and feed to the dog.

5. Write an essay analyzing the book’s structure.  (While interesting, this one is less spectacular and fun to watch happen).

Have you ever deconstructed a book or re-purposed it for something else?  Have you ever finished a book and wanted to physically deconstruct it?  Do you know other methods?


9 thoughts on “Deconstructing Books: Physical Methods

  1. Pingback: Roundup of Links from the Comments on “Books Are Not Sacred” « Anita M. King – Writing Window

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