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Books Are Not Sacred

August 17, 2012

Book lovers — or at least some of them — are up in arms over a DIY craft video that uses books as a crafting material (thanks to @ShelfBuzz on Twitter for bringing this to my attention). In the video, Lauren Conrad demonstrates how to cut off the bindings of books to decorate a storage box, essentially disguising the box as a shelf of books. In response, there has been an outcry from readers who say that Conrad is murdering books and that her craft project is a profane violation of something sacred.

Well, I have a confession to make:

I am a book-murderer.

The murder weapon

Several years ago, I took an art class. The final project in this class was to create an art book with some sort of unified theme. For my project, I chose to interpret and illustrate a poem, Eric Simpson’s “No More Personal Pronouns.” I thought long and hard over this poem and my project and eventually came to a chilling conclusion: I was going to cut pages and passages from a book, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and paste them back together in a collage to be the background of my illustrations.

I could make all sorts of justifications for what I did. I could tell you about how I used an old, cheap copy of the book, how the pages were already yellowed and falling out, and it was really a mercy killing. Or I could tell you about how I was a desperate college student with a looming deadline, and I did it out of necessity. But the truth of the matter is that I deliberately and brutally tore that book into pieces and used its bloody carcass for my own personal gain.

And, to this day, I don’t feel an ounce of guilt for my crime.

Wherein lies the value of a book?

Some of you may be thinking by now that my remorseless act of destruction betrays a lack of respect for books and perhaps a lack of respect for their authors and readers as well. I admit that I’m not readily horrified by cracked spines or dog-eared pages, signs that a book is well-used (book mold, on the other hand…). As both a student and an educator, I believe in underlining passages and writing notes in the margins, a practice that dismays some book lovers. But none of this is out of disrespect — it’s out of love.

I am not the sort who dismisses the inherent value of a book as a physical object. With the emergence of ebooks, people are arguing every day about whether paper books or their electronic siblings will end up on top. Is content all that matters, or is the smell of the binding glue and the feel of the pages between your fingers part of what makes a book a book? I’m one of those irritating people who stands squarely in the middle. I read a book for its contents whether it’s presented in physical or electronic form, but I also value the beauty of a book as a physical object regardless of its contents.

What does this mean when it comes to “re-purposing” books or pieces of books as the materials for a craft project or piece of visual artwork? Is it okay to destroy something beautiful in order to make something beautiful? Or is a book something too sacred to touch for any other purpose but reading?

The death of a book.

I think what bothers me the most about some of the reactions to Lauren Conrad’s video is the idea that cutting up a book is murder. The books she supposedly killed in her demonstration are from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. If I walk over to my bookshelves right now, I can pull out any of the first three books from that series. I can take a walk to at least one of my local bookstores and pick up the whole series if I want to. I can order them online or borrow them from a friend. These books are not gone just because Conrad chopped up one set of copies. The fact that I cut apart a copy of Wuthering Heights hardly means that no one will be able to read that book ever again. These books are not dead.

If we’re going to talk about murdering books, let’s talk about censorship. Let’s talk about banning books from schools and libraries, or making them illegal, or throwing them onto pyres because they contain ideas we don’t approve of. Let’s talk about the actions that destroy books out of malice, not out of a desire to create something new and beautiful from them.

Books are something special and, yes, sometimes even sacred. But if we make them too sacred for art, we make them too sacred to mean anything.

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146 Comments leave one →
  1. Sheila permalink
    August 17, 2012 7:27 pm

    Great blog today, Anita. Hear hear!!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 18, 2012 1:24 am

      Thanks, Sheila!

  2. August 17, 2012 9:36 pm

    WELL SAID.

    Working at a publisher, I an becoming more and more convinced that books are just the vectors, the transistors, the switchboard of ideas and information. Books and e-books are both pieces of technology used to transfer those ideas across time and space.

    A lot of love can go into a creating the physical book, a good deal of design and technological know-how and cost are used. But in the end, it’s just a thing. Have you ever seen paper being made? It’s not pretty. There is nothing intrinsically sacred about any particular book (as in, object)…it is a physical anchor to the metaphysical miracle that happens when we READ the book.

    There’s a difference in repurposing technology and smothering the transfer of information.
    Books are strong in out social consciousness because for almost two thousand years, they were the ONLY WAY we could logistically transfer ideas.

    Cutting up book to make an art project? Not a problem. Cutting it up to prevent other people from ever reading it? Well, if it’s your copy, do what you want. But cutting up someone ELSE’S book? That’s a problem.

    • August 17, 2012 9:40 pm

      So, in other words, there is a difference between “I bought a book today” and “I write a book today.” Trying to quelsh the former: not a crime; the latter: crime. We need a way to differentiate the physical and metaphysical “book” in our social consciousness.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 18, 2012 1:32 am

      Thanks, Noël! I was especially interested in what you would have to say about this, considering your work in publishing and your book binding projects. I like your idea about books as anchors. A book may be an object of beauty, but its purpose is to bring ideas from one mind to another.

      • August 21, 2012 2:28 am

        Technology aside, how will ideas, words will pass on in a void of libraries or computers?

        I had read thousands of books since the day first of putting together letters in words, and given that my native language was not on the 10 top list of international languages, I relied on trasnslations till I was able to decipher the ideas in the original language. years laer, i turned back and re-read some of my favorites and…guess what? the ideas have been altered. the translators wrote their own version of story…

        there was always a reason behind the interdiction of copying the holy books….

        We all perceived differently what we experience, through reading or otherwise…

        Books are not sacred. Ideas are. And yet preserving them from foul play needs consideration.

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 21, 2012 4:22 pm

        Preserving them is very important. The question is where we draw the line between foul play and fair play, which may be a different place depending on the time and circumstances.

  3. August 20, 2012 5:10 am

    Great post!
    “Books are something special and, yes, sometimes even sacred. But if we make them too sacred for art, we make them too sacred to mean anything” I completely agree with this! 🙂

    • August 20, 2012 1:41 pm

      Kit says what i’m trying to say.
      As a crafter, though, I’m still stuck on ripping apart magazines. Well, baby steps for now.

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 20, 2012 6:12 pm

        I’ve never heard anyone complain about crafters cutting up magazines. I wonder if that’s because of the content, the method of production, some other reason, or all of the above?

      • August 20, 2012 7:37 pm

        ugh, the annoying moment when you realize you forgot to add something on your last comment.

        A. For some reason, I feel less guilty ripping up magazines then books. Anyone agree?

        B. don’t click S-S mattie on my above comment, it’ll lead you who knows where. Click the one on this comment if you want to, as long as it isn’t the above one.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 3:42 pm

      Thank you, Kit!

  4. August 20, 2012 5:19 am

    no books are not sacred…..nothing is sacred…..i do however have some books that i would be very annoyed about if someone cut them up….some books are absolute crap and deserve to be cut up or burned…………………

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 3:49 pm

      While I don’t think every book is worth reading, I believe it’s dangerous to say that any book, not matter how crappy it may be, deserves to be destroyed just because someone doesn’t like it. Better to ignore it or critique it than to silence it.

  5. August 20, 2012 5:22 am

    Beautifully said, especially those last two paragraphs!

  6. August 20, 2012 5:22 am

    cutting up a copy of the book no problem ! books are scared

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 3:50 pm

      “Copy” being the operative word, I think.

  7. August 20, 2012 5:23 am

    Oh, goodie. I can stop feeling guilty for not twitching every time I see a dog-eared book. You pose a good point: sometimes people just get carried away with revering things.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 3:53 pm

      Too many of my books have gotten damaged one way or another, whether through accidents, my carelessness when I was younger, or lending them to people, for me to get twitchy about it.

  8. August 20, 2012 5:44 am

    I love the phrase “I am a book-murderer” 🙂 Brilliant!

  9. Impybat permalink
    August 20, 2012 5:45 am

    A Series of Unfortunate Events…because there aren’t 9 million copies of it around the world and we might run out of them. And I agree with friends with bivalves– the last two paragraphs are golden.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:01 pm

      Yes, if we were in danger of running out of them or losing access to them, then I might have something different to say about it. As it is…

  10. August 20, 2012 5:56 am

    This reminded me of a poet friend who was disappointed after being told that his poem was going to appear online but not in the print edition of a magazine.

    I was like: really? People on the other side of the world are going to be able to read your poem mere minutes after it’s posted. You have the black magic of the electronic medium at your fingertips, spreading your ideas for you, and you’re upset that it doesn’t have to be printed on a stack of dead trees.

    Full disclosure, I think he was disappointed because he was left out of the print edition, not because it was online. Nobody likes to be left out. But the important part is the transmission, not the medium.

    • August 20, 2012 10:56 am

      Your friend is quite right to be upset that his poem was not included in the print edition, as it will have less impact in the world as an online-only version, no matter how far across the globe it may travel.

      Studies are already showing that students and other readers who read real, physical books actually retain much more information than those who read online copies of the same material. There is something about the physical interaction with objects that convey ideas which causes us to retain the ideas they contain more completely.

      It may be that we humans tend to value more highly that information which comes to us in print form, since we have at least a basic understanding of how difficult that is to accomplish. Anyone can publish anything they want online, but a lot of people have to believe in, and usually fight for, content that makes it into print. Print is a wonderful method by which to filter out the flotsam and jetsam.

      Regards,
      Kat

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 20, 2012 6:01 pm

        Do you have a link or more information about the studies you mention? I’d be very interested in reading more on the subject. I wonder if the gap in retention that you mention is something that will close as the technology evolves and becomes more widespread; for example, perhaps readers would retain more if there were better ways to annotate electronic texts as they read.

        I think a lot of people underestimate how much work goes into electronic publishing, including self-publishing. It may be easy to put up, but getting people to read it–which includes marketing efforts but mostly means creating something people actually want to read–takes a great deal of time, hard work, and dedication that often goes unnoticed. And readers, not necessarily individuals but as a whole, are showing themselves more and more to be pretty effective filters for what’s good and what’s not.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:10 pm

      I think I might also be a little disappointed if something I wrote were left out of the print edition of a magazine. The issue may be more one of audience–when a publication appears in both electronic and print forms, there isn’t always a lot of overlap so the two editions will probably end up reaching different people. I can understand wanting to reach both sides, but reaching one side is nothing to sneeze at either.

      • August 21, 2012 7:12 am

        One of the more recent reports can be found here: , though there are plenty of others. An online search should bring up several.

        A couple of years ago, there were a few colleges and universities which offered all their new incoming students free textbooks loaded onto a free eBook reader. Within a month, nearly all the students had returned the eBook readers and had purchased hard copies of their textbooks. Many stated that they needed to be able to highlight relevant text and make notes in the margins, but there were also many who simply did not like the form factor or the electronic simulation of text. They wanted the real thing.

        The link between retention and the source of the knowledge seems to have to do with physical contact. Some months ago, I was talking with an acquaintance who consults with teachers who work with blind children. He told me that consistently, all of those teachers reported that children who had learned to read Braille, and regularly read in that format, had significantly stronger grammar, spelling and punctuation skills than did children who got most of their information via audio input. No clinical studies yet, by this fellow has heard this same thing from a lot of teachers over the course of the past few years.

        There is no doubt that there is a lot of work associated with electronic publishing, but one facet which it typically lacks is review of the material by experienced and knowledgeable editors. Most publishing houses put a lot of time and effort into fact-checking and verification before they allow a book to go to print. That does not appear to be the usual case with online-only publications. For fiction, that is not a huge problem, but for scholarly and academic publications, I, for one, like knowing that what I am reading has been rigorously reviewed and edited long before type-setting even begins.

        In the interests of full disclosure, I am a life-long bibliophile who hopes to be dead before the last real book goes to press.

        Regards,
        Kat

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 21, 2012 5:25 pm

        Unfortunately, your link did not show up!

        I’ve done some searching online this afternoon, and what I’m finding doesn’t quite match up with what you describe. Maybe the studies I’m finding are different from what you are referring to? I’ve seen studies with both positive and negative results, but most of the complaints that come up have to do with clunky software and non-user-friendly interfaces. As the technology is still in its infancy and is improving by leaps and bounds all the time, I don’t think those are problems that will hold up very far into the future. In addition, the studies I’ve looked at seem to show better results the younger the students are, so a large part of it may just be getting used to the format and how to use it.

        On the other hand, I certainly agree with how important tactile interaction can be for learning. For myself, while I haven’t noticed any difference between my ability to maintain attention and retain information when using a paper book or a hand-held e-reader, I have found that I work much better with both paper books and e-readers than I do when trying to read the same material from a computer screen that I can’t hold in my hands. In the classroom, I’ve noticed that my English as a second language students who have good speaking skills but don’t read or write much do have a much harder time with the particulars of English grammar and usage. Reading and writing practice, not just speaking and listening, is vital for them to attain full use of the English language.

        It’s a bit of a misconception that electronic publishing usually lacks editorial review, at least if we’re talking about professional publication. Online publishing companies have editors too, and many self-publishers spend a lot of money to hire professional editors to make sure their work is the best it can be before going out to the public. Not everyone does, but the ones who don’t are much less likely to get sales. Publishing houses aren’t the only ones who can tell what’s worth reading–readers are pretty good at figuring that out for themselves, and often publishing houses are motivated more by what’s marketable than what’s good. Of course, academic and scholarly writing is an entirely different matter and requires much more stringent review, but there are also electronic versions of peer-reviewed journals, and the electronic versions are no less stringent just because they’ve been put into electronic format.

        In any case, I don’t think that print books are going to be replaced by e-books any time soon, and I’m happy to have both in my library.

  11. August 20, 2012 6:05 am

    I can’t like this post enough.

  12. August 20, 2012 6:13 am

    Excellent blog! I work at a public library and I’ve got to tell you, libraries are mass book murderers! Library books get torn, spit-up on, run over by cars and we have to throw them away. Sometimes we toss them even if they’re in perfect condition just because nobody checks them out anymore. There’s only so much room on the shelves. Discarding books is a fact of life at libraries. Books that can’t be passes along to other institutions, or sold at used book sales are sent to the recycle bin. It took me a long time to get over the guilty twinge every time I discarded a book. In our large library system that’s thousands a year. If I’d known they’d be used to create a piece of art, I would have had a smile on my face!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:15 pm

      Thanks! I’m glad I am not the one who has to make the decisions about what books to keep or discard from a library.

  13. August 20, 2012 6:24 am

    Well-said, other Anita! I completely agree with all of it.
    Not that that’s what makes it well-said, mind you. Those are two separate points. 🙂

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:17 pm

      Thank you, other Anita!

  14. August 20, 2012 6:48 am

    Obviously, none of those shocked book lovers have ever explored the shelves of a used-book store. Hundreds of thousands of books that no one will ever look at again, many of them ephemera that had a short run in their day. Multiply one book store by hundreds or thousands, and it works out that the best use for those books is some one’s craft skills.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:20 pm

      I do have to hope that many of those books will be looked at again, but with more and more used-book stores closing these days, fewer will be.

  15. August 20, 2012 6:59 am

    Great post. As an author of a paperback and an e-book, I found myself wondering how I’d feel if someone cut up my book for an art project. I guess I’d like it better if the book had been read first, overall I think I’d be quite pleased to fine one of my books re-purposed. Those who are so up in arms about this might need to re-think their position on e-books. It’s tough to re-purpose computer code.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:23 pm

      That’s one of the first questions that came to mind when I first heard of the video. If and when any of my work is published, I don’t think I would mind if someone re-purposed any of it. I, too, would prefer if they read it first, but I think I would feel honored that they thought my book was worthy enough to turn into something else.

  16. August 20, 2012 7:19 am

    Love this post! I am also a book-murderer, and will happily murder books for those who have trouble disconnecting the life-support from their old textbooks, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, etc.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:24 pm

      Hah! You’re reminding me that I need to go through my shelves and put together a donation box for the books I’m not going to read again…

  17. August 20, 2012 7:26 am

    Well said! Being an artist myself, I’m reminded of the works of Warhol, Duchamp, and others taking “found objects” and pop culture icons and repurposing them into works of art, most times tongue-in-cheek. Instead of destroying something, it is elevated into a new idea, a new concept, that opens the mind to things previously un-thought of.

    The artist must imaginatively assemble ordinarily unrelated objects or experiences. They must help us look the second time, to explore beneath the surface of ordinary experience. Imagination penetrates ordinariness and things taken for granted. It carries us to the boundaries of what we normally see and inspires us to move beyond the confined commonplace.

    If that means desecrating books in order to further the world’s conscience, or even just your own, then by all means, destroy the book. It’s not the physical books themselves that are sacred, but the thoughts and ideology contained within.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post! I’m reblogging this on my writing website. http://www.kat-collins.com

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:31 pm

      The idea of taking a second look is a great one. I can’t help but wonder if someone will see a piece of artwork made with a re-purposed book and be inspired to take a first look at a book they never knew about or noticed before.

      Thank you for reblogging!

  18. August 20, 2012 7:26 am

    Reblogged this on Kat Collins and commented:
    Well said! Being an artist myself, I’m reminded of the works of Warhol, Duchamp, and others taking “found objects” and pop culture icons and repurposing them into works of art, most times tongue-in-cheek. Instead of destroying something, it is elevated into a new idea, a new concept, that opens the mind to things previously un-thought of.

    The artist must imaginatively assemble ordinarily unrelated objects or experiences. They must help us look the second time, to explore beneath the surface of ordinary experience. Imagination penetrates ordinariness and things taken for granted. It carries us to the boundaries of what we normally see and inspires us to move beyond the confined commonplace.

    If that means desecrating books in order to further the world’s conscience, or even just your own, then by all means, destroy the book. It’s not the physical books themselves that are sacred, but the thoughts and ideology contained within.

  19. Arianne Z. permalink
    August 20, 2012 7:28 am

    I immediately wanted to oppose your view just by the title of your post. I really can’t imagine doing any kind of intentional damage to my books. Although i must admit that I have always debated with myself whether to write on a book or not especially for my textbooks or fiction with really inspiring passages.

    In the end, i guess, you do have a point. Paper is paper, right? Maybe it would actually be better to recycle paper that is left to rot from years of no use. But for my books though, I think I have placed too much importance on each page to start cutting them up.

    Anyway, thanks for your post. Now I’ll have to get back to re-covering my old Harry Potter books 😉

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:35 pm

      Writing in the books you read can be a great way of engaging more deeply with the text and the ideas. Sometimes, if I’m feeling reluctant to do that, I’ll actually get a second copy of a book just so that I can keep one clean and write in the other.

  20. August 20, 2012 7:43 am

    Oh geesh, this is so right on….I revised a book on spiritual healing, “out of love,” and because the ideas are not dead. My book, “21st Century Science and Health” was produced because I know books are not sacred and thank YOU for stating this fact with aplomb!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:37 pm

      This kind of thing is a situation where I believe intent matters. Thanks for commenting!

  21. August 20, 2012 7:46 am

    Books are not sacred is something I recently became aware off… Not so long ago I attended a conference by a well known self-help mexican author and bought her book to have it autographed, since I had listened to the conference and had already read a bit about the topic I decided to give the book as a present…of course this book had a special value to me because it was autographed and feeling that way about it I gave it away to a special person just to find out that she keeps it in the bathroom…ah! How dare she?! But as you well say: books are not sacred and that was when I realized it…though I’ve still got my treasured books and those will never live in the bathroom…thanks, Alexandra

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:39 pm

      At least in my family, a book that lives in the bathroom is a book that is well-loved. But I definitely understand wanting to take more care with a book that’s autographed!

  22. August 20, 2012 7:50 am

    This is a great post. My husband bought an older book from a yard sale that was nicely bound. It was a book with dinner toasts inside the pages, and they were boring or so weird that he decided to do something else with the book. Using it like a scrapbook, he steamed the labels off the wine bottles from special dinners or parties and pasted them into the book, allowing for bits and pieces of the “toasts” to be viewed still. Then, in the margins, he wrote the date, who we were with, and where we were. Sometimes what we were celebrating.

    Books cannot be murdered – they are things. The contents of books is what we should be worried about, as you suggest. Things can be replaced, but thoughts and ideas cannot be perfectly replicated without the help of the written word. Such as in books.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:42 pm

      That is a perfect example. The way your husband re-purposed that book gives tribute to its original purpose.

  23. artlesspoems permalink
    August 20, 2012 7:56 am

    Some books are sacred, and some aren’t: If you want to recraft, remold, or rewrite the Bible, be my guest. But you’d better not change a single word or punctuation mark by Robert Frost!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:45 pm

      I may or may not have once written a parody poem based on “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening…”

  24. August 20, 2012 8:09 am

    Everything is contextual. Saying books are sacred and saying books are not sacred are both so polarized that NEITHER can be correct. I would think books would have taught this lesson. The fact is some books are in electronic form, but not all. Some physical books have historic context, but not all. Sometimes the value is in the printing and sometimes it’s in the text. Destroying a book that might otherwise not be readily available to others who may want it and/or destroying a book with historic value are both destructions of something generally considered sacred. It is not just one’s self, but OTHERS that also define if something is sacred. In contrast, destroying a commodity printing of a popular or common book is generally not sacred. To assume that any one of us defines if an item is sacred is self-centered and short-sighted. Something sacred to you may not be sacred to me. That doesn’t mean there’s no harm if I destroy it. I’m sorry but people who can’t think in context of others are self-centered. There are book resale farms that destroy books that they will not get any significant money for. Books I would have read. Books that are not in e-book format. Books I cannot find elsewhere. To presume those books were not sacred just because they weren’t sacred to those that destroyed them is flat-out murder. To have no guilt is to have no compassion for others. That attitude makes me sick.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:49 pm

      Context is certainly crucial. Destroying a historical manuscript or otherwise rare text is something very different from destroying a single copy of a mass-produced book that has many copies still readily accessible, and I’m glad you brought up that distinction.

  25. August 20, 2012 8:13 am

    Really great post! As a lover of literature, I must admit that I, too, am a book murderer. Although, I also use the pages for art. If a book is just sitting on a shelf, why not give it a second life?

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 4:56 pm

      And that’s the big difference, here–giving it a second life through art or craft is a very different thing from trying to eliminate it.

  26. Meag permalink
    August 20, 2012 8:51 am

    I’m an avid book reader but I agree with you. And as Michelle said, “why not give it a second life?” There are plenty of books on my shelves that I have only read once and now is just collecting dust.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:00 pm

      Although I re-read a lot of the books I own, I also have a lot that are just sitting around, and most of us probably do. There is more than one way of giving those books new life.

  27. August 20, 2012 9:00 am

    I’ve never “murdered” a book, but that’s only because I lack crafty skills. I love books, heck, I blog about them. But really. It’s not like you destroyed the content. We’re not living in Farenheit 451- there’s not exactly a shortage. I fall in the middle of the e-book vs real book debate… But my house is small and e-books take up no space, so I’m leaning more and more to the digital side… Don’t let the purists get you down- just don’t go cutting up any antique first editions :).

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:01 pm

      First editions are definitely off limits!

  28. August 20, 2012 9:20 am

    I agree, but let’s face it: it was a hideous project to begin with. While part of me was aghast because I was brought up to respect books, another part of me noticed the condition of the books she was using: they looked brand new. Something about the idea of some bored weathy wasting that much cash on that many books and doing that to them, when there are schools who could have actually USED those books, who are crying out for funding, upset me. (I’d have been a lot less bothered if she’d picked up old used books from a library clearance [university libraries often clear out old hardbacked journals: I’ve got a heap of chiropractic ones from the early 1990s at home] or a thrift store.) There’s just something quite yucky about being able to waste that much cash to do something so fugly and trivial when for a lot of people, owning books and being able to buy them is a rare luxury.

    And theof putting books (or bits of them) on bookshelves to give the impression that you read is kind of hideous anyway. People who use books (or music, or anything else) to make it look like they’re intelligent strike me as seriously pathetic.

    Furthermore, what to be said about antique books? While it’s not my thing, these do have value and are collectable to people, and various ways of creating them back “in the day” were different to how they do it now, and at one point, bookmaking itself was an art– one which has been all but lost. Those books aren’t just a vessel for the written word, but historical artefacts.

    • August 20, 2012 9:23 am

      That should read “bored wealthy person”– pardon the typo.

      At the start of the third paragraph, it should say, “And the idea of,” not “And theof.”

      Sometimes I think faster than I type. :O

      • August 20, 2012 1:07 pm

        At least she bought books, and helped fund the author.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:27 pm

      The thing is, we don’t know how she’s spending her money. For all we know, she may have donated money or another new set of the books to a school or library. Maybe she donates to schools all the time, but the video doesn’t really tell us one way or the other. And we can’t say, either, that she’s only trying to appear intelligent. Maybe those are her favorite books and she has copies that she’s re-read many times. I don’t think it’s fair to make the assumption that she doesn’t just based on her craft project. Granted, I know nothing about her, and maybe you’re more familiar with her and have a better idea of what’s more likely.

      As for antique books, those are something to be more careful with. They have special historical and artistic value as objects in and of themselves, and a case where preservation takes priority.

  29. August 20, 2012 9:33 am

    I love this. Although I would admittedly think twice about cutting up a book for an art project, I am definitely not one to get up in arms about dog-earing pages and breaking spines (well, if they’re my own books, I try not to do that with books I borrow). Like you said, your most loved books are going to be the ones falling apart at the seams, the ones with the soft corners and bends from carrying it around with you in a purse or backpack, and from repeated reading. It is definitely not book murder, and the issues you mentioned are the ones more worth arguing “book murder” over. Congrats on Freshly Pressed! 🙂

    • August 20, 2012 9:58 am

      Love it! And I wholeheartedly agree with every word! Books are ideas, and you cannot kill an idea.

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 20, 2012 5:30 pm

        People try to kill ideas all the time, but making art out of them isn’t the most effective way of going about it.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:29 pm

      My favorite books definitely show some wear and tear after a while, even if I’m careful with them. Thanks!

  30. mrnobodyswife permalink
    August 20, 2012 10:14 am

    This reminds me of the lyrics of a Coldplay song: Those who are dead, are not dead. They are living in my head.”

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:33 pm

      Very appropriate.

  31. August 20, 2012 10:20 am

    I love this! I love the written word and I will never feel the same way reading something off a tablet or computer vs. a physical book but I also support the use of things that are already awesome and making them even MORE awesome. Great post!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:34 pm

      I like the way you say that, taking “things that are already awesome and making them even MORE awesome.” Thanks!

  32. August 20, 2012 10:22 am

    Terrific post. I will admit that I cringe a little when I see a book that has been cut up or destroyed, but there are some gorgeous pieces as a result, and certainly the artists should not be hounded because of this.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:37 pm

      I sometimes cringe too, but for me it all depends on why it was taken apart and what was done with it.

      • August 20, 2012 6:21 pm

        Exactly. There are some beautiful projects that are definitely worth it.

  33. Katherine Ciesla permalink
    August 20, 2012 10:22 am

    Actually, the bit that bothered me the most, was that they were brand new books that looked like they were for young readers and destroying them was an utter waste; that they would have been better off donated to children without books to read and it would have been FAR more creative a DIY project if she had come up with some clever way to craft the spines she cut off of them from some cardstock paper and artistic talent.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:39 pm

      I can understand why that would bother you, but as I mentioned to another person who commented, we can’t really know that she didn’t donate money or more books. What she did in the video doesn’t preclude additional acts of charity.

  34. August 20, 2012 10:35 am

    GREAT post , well done:)

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:40 pm

      Thank you. 🙂

  35. August 20, 2012 10:42 am

    Thanks for this. I should look at that as part of a way of getting over my book “collection” mental state. It’s difficult to cut up a book when it is perceived as part of a “collection”, and I think that may be the reason for the horror. I wrote a post called the Book Lover’s Dilemma, which is where I discovered the danger of the “collection mentality”.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:43 pm

      The idea of a “collection mentality” sounds interesting…and familiar. I definitely have a tendency to hold onto things that maybe I don’t need to be holding onto anymore.

  36. August 20, 2012 10:43 am

    Very well said with your last line and the paragraph before that! Due to a wonderful college professor I’ve had recently I just started writing in any somewhat important book I read. He would have us write poems in the margins of books in reference to what we read. Sometimes I doodle drawings out of what I see in my head from the story. This is not defacing the book but adding to it! Books are meant to inspire and it’s wonderful that people take these pieces of art and turn them into their own piece.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:45 pm

      That sounds great! I’m always encouraging my students to write in their books, and I’m glad that you’ve found that practice useful.

  37. August 20, 2012 10:49 am

    I believe our culture today views books, not as the physical object, but as the contained concept of the sharing of ideas, as the sacred thing. Think of the reaction when people talk of burning or banning books. It’s viewed as abhorrent to our culture, because it carries the implication not of the destruction of property but the destruction of ideas, a choke-hold of censorship, and the regulation of thought. Things like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and images of Nazi book burnings all have created in us this visceral negative reaction to the destruction of books, almost beyond the understanding of why.

    So I understand why people have such a negative reaction to using books as a raw material for art, cutting and pasting and reconstructing. I also understand that it is a beautiful art form, to take a well-loved (or sometimes not-so-well-loved) book and repurpose it to function, beauty, or evoking thought. To me, that is as valid a state for a book to be in as to be open and read.

    To me, creating art by putting words in a book is on the same level as creating art using a book and/or its words. It is the expression of our humanity.

    I only find it unconscionable to destroy a book when it is done seeking to destroy the ideas within it.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 5:47 pm

      And this is exactly what I was trying to get at. The purpose behind the act is often as important as–if not more important than–the act itself.

  38. August 20, 2012 10:59 am

    Books are a wonderful tool used to spark the imagination. If that imagination is sparked by uses other than other than by reading them, then their purpose has been achieved (in a round about manner). Better yet, if the book was read and appreciated for the art form it already is prior to its re-purposing.

    Overall, it is no different than picking up a designer dress at the thrift store and redesigning it to something different.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:03 pm

      I like the dress comparison–and that’s another thing that I’ve done myself.

  39. August 20, 2012 12:05 pm

    I hate to see books damaged but almost anything is fair game when it comes to art. However, I think the outrage is more due to who destroyed the books rather than that books were destroyed. Lauren Conrad, as a reality tv star, is generally viewed as vapid and self-serving (whether or not it is true; I am not really familiar with her body of work) and would thus be seen as unfit to damage books to create art. But let Shepherd Ferry do it and people would proclaim it genius. Humans are hard to understand.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:04 pm

      That wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know anything about Conrad, but a lot of the backlash seems to be vitriol aimed at her as a person.

  40. August 20, 2012 12:33 pm

    I adore books, but they are a tool and if you want to cut them up to enhance a piece of art, so be it. (especially if it’s Wuthering Heights!)

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:06 pm

      Wuthering Heights is one of those books that you either love or you hate, isn’t it?

  41. Norman Cooper permalink
    August 20, 2012 1:06 pm

    What a great idea to “repurpose” some books. The real crime, as some have said above, is for a book to languish on the shelves of used book stores and libraries where they will never be read. For me, the process is sacred. The print and binding is for consumers. After they purchase the book, they are free to do as they wish.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:07 pm

      I would hope that books do get read before they get re-purposed, but you bring up a good point that someone has a right to do what they want with what they’ve bought.

  42. August 20, 2012 1:11 pm

    Modern books are different than Medieval Manuscripts – where there is only one unique copy of a medieval manuscript, because of the painstaking work of each scribe, and because of the small notes in the margins. Turning the pages of a mass-produced book into an individual art project may actually be truer to original books before the printing press. I love to write notes and individualize my personal books for a living.

    Ironically, my most recent post is on how I destroy physical books for a living:
    http://goodwholesomefun.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/deconstructingbooks/

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:10 pm

      I took a look, and that is what I call a really good reason for taking apart a book.

  43. August 20, 2012 1:12 pm

    People will get worked up over anything, it seems. I once watched a documentary about a serial killer, and it ended up being a serial killer of pigeons in NYC. I was applauding that killer since I was battling the diseases with wings myself at the time and thought them a horrific nuisance. Whatever. I thought that idea of decorating a box to look like books was an awesome idea. And I want to do it even more now that I know I’d be upsetting people (probably the same ones that love the gross pigeons). Fun post!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:13 pm

      Haha, sometimes rebelling against convention is fun in and of itself.

  44. August 20, 2012 2:38 pm

    Nice post! Although I hate the sight of dog ears and cracked spines, I don’t lose sleep over it. I refrain from making any markings on the book, but I am okay when I see people doing so. It’s a cognitive dissonance I guess. This is one of the reasons I switched to e-readers.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:15 pm

      Thanks! I admit that it took a while for me to come around to the idea of writing in books, but e-readers are helpful for that if you’re squeamish about it.

  45. Kris permalink
    August 20, 2012 2:58 pm

    The question is though, would you murder a bible? I think it really comes down to how much the book means to you. Books, especially to those who enjoy reading them, mean more than just paper and words. They are an experience, they’re apart of a person. It’s easy to say that they are just a possession, because in fact they are. But to some people they are possessions of value. Conrad can obviously destroy a Lemony Snicket book, but could she do the same to a Valentino dress? It’s not a question of a book being ‘sacred’ in general, but whether it is ‘sacred’ to you. Personally I would not do that to a book that I loved or enjoyed reading. However I could make an exception to one that I thought was complete rubbish.

    • Shana permalink
      August 20, 2012 5:35 pm

      I agree…I think it is about what is sacred to you. I have a large collection of books, but they are old friends that I return to time and time again…some of them I have replaced 3 or 4 times because I have read them so many times they have literally just fallen to pieces. I can’t imagine myself disemboweling one of them to make something as weird (at least in my mind) as a box to look like a book. Why not just have a box?? Sure take out a USED Lemony Snicket (I have issues with spending the money on new books just to kill them)…but touch my 1865 edition of the works of Tennyson and someone is going to bled!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:25 pm

      I think I’m actually more likely to create something out of a book that I care about, although I would keep another copy for reading. If I didn’t think the book was worth reading, I wouldn’t think it was worth making art out of either.

      As for a bible…I probably would refrain from taking apart the sacred text of any religion out of respect for those who consider the physical books themselves, not just the contents within, to be holy objects. On the other hand, I still would (and do) write notes on the pages.

      • Kris permalink
        August 20, 2012 7:19 pm

        Oh I didn’t mean that I’d rather create something out of a book I thought nothing of, just that I don’t really care what happens to said book. Because it wouldn’t mean anything to me.

        Wasn’t your point that we shouldn’t make any book too sacred to become art because then they wouldn’t mean anything? So aren’t you contradicting yourself when you say that you wouldn’t take apart a bible because of other people’s sacred feelings towards it?

        I think writing on pages and physically taking apart a book (with no intention of putting it back together) are completely different things.

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 21, 2012 4:08 pm

        I don’t think I’m contradicting myself for a couple of reasons.

        First, there is a difference between saying that “books, as a class, are not sacred” and “no book, anywhere, is or ever can be sacred.” My point was the former, not the latter. I would not, for example, take apart a historical manuscript, an antique first edition, an autographed copy, or an otherwise rare book because their physical forms hold extra meaning and value beyond simply the contents of their pages.

        Second, and this may be a point where I could have been clearer in my first response to you, there is also a difference between how the word “sacred” is used in a secular sense and how it’s used in a religious sense. My post is primarily concerned with the secular sense, when something is considered precious and untouchable but not divine. A religious text, on the other hand, is often held as sacred in a sense that extends beyond the way that same word is used in a secular context and beyond the way I was using the word in my original post.

        Third, while I would choose to err on the side of caution and respect when it comes to religious beliefs, I would also defend an artist’s right to use a religious text to create art even if the text they used were from my own religion.

      • Kris permalink
        August 21, 2012 6:02 pm

        Hmm I think we may have reached an understanding. I agree with your first point. And also about the book having to be autographed or otherwise rare for a reason on it not to be destroyed. I also think however that a ‘rare’ book can be interpreted in different ways. If there was a place where books weren’t readily available, and someone destroyed those limited books (which may have thousands of copies elsewhere) for an art project..; I wouldn’t condone that. Or if the books were widely available but if someone was a less wealthier person that doesn’t have the money to buy books, any book that they may own would be very rare to them, regardless of the ideas in the book.

        Yes the word sacred has a very different meaning in the religious sense. You raise a valid point it that. What I only meant was that unless making art meant more than a particular book, you would not be murdering that book. Buying a different copy of it only means, as you’ve previously said, that only the ideas inside that book matter. It’s just that for some people the physical book itself also means something. For reasons like it was a gift or they’ve just shared some sort of experience with it. The actual book has value for to these people, sometimes even more value than the ideas in it, sometimes also less. But it wouldn’t be because that book was special to society, it would be because it was special to them.

        Anyways, it seems that we’re really saying the same thing just in different ways..? Personally I wouldn’t cut up any of my books, and if given a choice I would rather give it away to those who haven’t read it. On the other hand I don’t have too much of a problem if someone else does it as long as they have a good reason for it.

        By the way, congrats on making freshly pressed.Your article was definitely an interesting read =)

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 21, 2012 6:50 pm

        I certainly agree about places with limited access to books. In that situation, preservation of individual copies takes a higher priority.

        I think we may be on the same page, if you’ll pardon the book pun. Thanks for your input!

  46. August 20, 2012 3:41 pm

    Books are just mediums to transfer information or Ideas. Ideas are unique, one of a kind. Holy …

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:30 pm

      While some books, or some specific copies/editions of books, can hold value simply as physical objects, the ideas are what make books valuable.

  47. August 20, 2012 4:04 pm

    as a book lover, collector and writer I value books but having said that, books are only sacred if they are scarce, out of print manuscripts. Mass produced books have value only to the reader. Using them as art or craft projects doesn’t really bother me and I would never call someone a murderer for cutting up a book. Would I personally do it, no! I would rather read a book than make a craft project out of it, but that’s just my opinion as a writer and a book lover.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:32 pm

      To me, although I do read books much more often than I make craft projects out of them, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. First read, then craft!

  48. August 20, 2012 4:52 pm

    I’m completely on the fence with this one. I happen to love books and was appalled when a teacher in highschool suggested to use them for crafting purposes…but I’m also an artist and can find value in the art that this medium can produce. While books may be special to me and probably not something I would personally use in an arts and crafts project, I would never go so far as to attack someone for using them in this way. If it was something that was no longer in print and hard to come by, however, I could understand the outrage. Then again if the thoughts of the author live on beyond that of the book through discourse and the retelling of these thoughts orally or in another form, isn’t that more important than one form of physical manifestation of those thoughts? The value of the book comes from the story and the knowledge that we can gain, not from the physical book itself.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:37 pm

      I think that, depending on how it’s done, making art out of books can be one way of continuing the discourse about the ideas contained within them. I doubt that the project in the video that prompted this post actually accomplishes that, but I’ve seen other works that do.

  49. August 20, 2012 4:53 pm

    A re-purposed book is surely better than a thrown away book. And if we turn a classic into a work of art, maybe it will encourage someone to seek out and read that book. I have book surgery planned for a Christmas present this year (see link), and will have no qualms about it. Upcycle!
    http://www.lhj.com/style/decorating/easy/diy-presents/?page=6

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:39 pm

      That’s a good point. Seeing a book turned into art can prompt curiosity about the original work.

  50. Renee Blanchard permalink
    August 20, 2012 5:21 pm

    Beautifully articulated blog post Anita. I think that DIY projects using books—-especially those on their last legs—-can be homages to books they love, like the bindings of, etc. I agree with you that the real problem is censorship.People who repurpose books are not burning them so that they will never again see the light of day. They are usually still celebrating the book and its author. —Then again, I don’t know how I’d feel if I wrote a book and found it on someones desk after it had been folded into a bill or memo holder——-. 🙂

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 20, 2012 6:45 pm

      Thanks, Renée! I actually think I would find it kind of cool to see a book I wrote turned into a craft project or piece of art. It would certainly be better than if they thought it deserved to be burned, at the least!

  51. August 20, 2012 7:11 pm

    I kind of disagree. And I gasped when I saw the picture of the scissors on my freshly pressed screen (congratulations, by the way). Yes, I absolutely see your point that we can get the book someplace else. Making art from a book does not destroy the idea. But when I was once sitting in the lobby of a big and fancy law office, I noticed a piece of their art was like a pin wheel made of probably 50 books. I don’t know what books they used, but I didn’t think they destroyed something beautiful to create something beautiful because I didn’t think the end result was beautiful. Do you think it matters what a person uses the destroyed book for? What if some people don’t think the art is beautiful?

    Personally, I feel that though the art didn’t destroy the ideas in the books and someone else can go get the book someplace else, that assumes that the someone else has the means to acquire the book. I just feel like if someone doesn’t want a book anymore and is willing to take scissors to it, I’d rather see them donate it to someone needy. I think that’s more beautiful than some works of art. (Unless the book is something completely outdated, like an old version of the tax code or something. I might have one of those lying around. If your muse hits you again, let me know.)

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 3:31 pm

      You raise a very good question. Do the ethics of destroying a book depend on how aesthetically pleasing the end result is? I don’t think it does, but a lot of people seem to. Lauren Conrad’s rather poorly executed craft project gets a lot of backlash, while someone like the mysterious Edinburgh library sculptor is applauded even though he or she is equally guilty of destroying books. It doesn’t seem like the real issue is “destroying books is always bad” but “destroying books is bad if the end result isn’t pretty enough.”

      Really, though, for every piece of art there will be at least a few people who don’t find it beautiful. Sometimes a lot more than a few. Some art is not intended to be beautiful, or intended to not be beautiful. So who gets to decide which art is good enough to be allowed to use books as a material?

      • August 21, 2012 5:52 pm

        Wow. The Edinburgh Library Sculptor is amazing! I have never heard of her before. Thank you!

        I agree. Art (and books) are subjective and there is no book or piece of art that everyone agrees is beautiful. I went down a scary train of thought after coming to the conclusion that the end result does not matter. Does that mean book burning is ok since it doesn’t destroy the idea? I think the final product doesn’t matter as long as the intent of the artist is the same/similar as the author of the book, ie, to make something beautiful or to spread ideas.

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        August 21, 2012 6:45 pm

        Even though book burning may not succeed at destroying ideas, the intent is to censor and silence. And intent, I agree, does matter.

  52. August 20, 2012 8:39 pm

    I completely agree, because (a) Wuthering Heights has to be the worst book ever written, and (b) here’s a good article about the cult of books http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/im-no-longer-bound-by-my-books—but-im-reading-more-than-ever/article551916/

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 4:12 pm

      Well, I disagree with you about Wuthering Heights–it’s not my absolute favorite, but I’ve definitely read a lot worse–but thanks for the link!

  53. August 20, 2012 9:27 pm

    Definitely agree! I hadn’t heard of the “murdering books” phenomenon until just now, but as someone who loves to read and has spent most of her life with a book near her at all times, I feel guilty saying that I could care less if someone cut up a book for another project. I’m one of those people that reads a book, puts it away, and never looks at it again. Doesn’t it make more sense to use it for something else than to gather dust on a bookshelf?

  54. August 20, 2012 9:57 pm

    Uhh, Im guilty of murdering books when I write them. Fun read.

  55. August 21, 2012 3:03 am

    Being an artist as well as an avid book lover and collector,I can very well understand
    the things written in your post.But,if I choose to tear down pages of an old book to create something arty and beautiful,it would not be a “murder” or “destruction” but a transition of one beautiful thing to another.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 4:26 pm

      Transition is a good way of putting it.

  56. transitionscoachingcayman permalink
    August 21, 2012 3:24 am

    I think it depends on the book. A modern book that you can get anywhere can be cut up for art or whatever. But I hope we would all treat with respect an old leather bound, rare volume, right?

  57. August 21, 2012 3:29 am

    I write on my books, underline in lots of different colours, highlight… I suppose you’d say I deface them. But I love my books and I’d think more than twice before underlining an old precious volume.

    I do however underline and highlight things in my Bible….

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 4:29 pm

      That’s why I sometimes will keep an extra, cheaper copy of a book just for annotating.

  58. August 21, 2012 3:49 am

    I wrote a blog on something similar! I really like your one! I’d appreciate it if you could reblog mine as well as not many people have seen it and i’d like people to take an interest in what I write. Let me know what you think as well by commenting.
    Here’s the link: http://aronsideas.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/blasphemy/

    Thanks!

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 4:30 pm

      I’ll be posting a roundup of relevant links that people have put in the comments, and your post will be included.

  59. August 21, 2012 4:42 am

    I agree with your post. No need to get fanatical..books are just one medium for ideas…especially today with e-books and alternative media forms. It’s not like we’re burning the last book in the library… or a First Edition.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 4:31 pm

      And if we were burning the last book, then I’d have something different to say about it.

  60. August 21, 2012 1:11 pm

    I’ve used pages of books when creating art, and I completely agree! I also like what you said about dog-eared pages, notes in margins, etc. I went to a signing by Michael Ondaatje for his latest book, and while I was in line I noticed he didn’t say much and just signed and passed the books along, signed and passed along, not really looking at them or at the people that much (it was a long line) Then it was my turn, and rather than a brand new, clean copy of his new book, I had brought my old copy of The English Patient. When he got my dog-eared, soft-cornered, bent-cover book he stopped and looked up…. I like to think he appreciated that it had obviously been read and enjoyed multiple times. 🙂

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 21, 2012 5:25 pm

      I certainly would, in his position!

  61. blogceanawards permalink
    August 23, 2012 8:11 am

    Well Done! You have been awarded a Grade 3 BlOgcean Award from us! Your one of a group of the first ever to get this award, so we would be grateful if you could spread the word! If you want to know more about us and your award go to: http://blogceanawards.wordpress.com/
    Keep posting on your great blog! And go on our Blog to nominate someone else’s blog too if you feel like it!

  62. August 23, 2012 4:42 pm

    It’s hard for me to even donate books sometimes, I don’t even like to fold the page over as a bookmark lol!

Trackbacks

  1. Are Books Sacred Objects or Just Pulp Fiction? « Kat Collins
  2. Are Books Sacred Objects or Just Pulp Fiction? « Kat Collins
  3. Religion and Science: Books and Sentiment « Stories, Not Stuff

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