While we’re all staying at home, we might find it difficult to indulge in all of those book-identity affirming activities that keep us secure in our bookishness. You know, like going to a book shop to excitedly pick up that new release we’ve been waiting for and then taking it, trembling, to a coffee shop. Or visiting a book club or community library. Yes, as creatures of books, we’re suffering a little change in routine, that’s for sure. But it’s okay. Being a devout reader means several things: it means being imaginative and empathetic, it means not shying from an investment in time, it means being relatively okay with solitude and it means reading, a lot. However, even the most insatiable reader is going to come up against that feeling of saturation at some point, and when that happens you’ll want some extra, other book-y things to do.
So here are a handful of book-based things that you can do to pass the time (and end up with some impressive fruits to show for it).
Rearrange and Reorganise Your Bookshelves
A bookshelf is a map of your inner life; an actual physical testament to all the things in which you are interested, all the worlds into which you have delved and all the characters you have met and cared for. Thus there is much that can be done with them. It’s rather like painting a self-portrait – you get to choose the colours and the style and the overall mood but ultimately you will end up with a representation of yourself, and it will be satisfying.
You can rearrange by colour and size, by author, by genre, purely by whim or (and this one is my favourite) if you fancy really delving into your own history, you can rearrange by personal chronology, by the order in which you obtained and read each book. That makes for a very interesting portrait.
And then there’s all the rest. For the DIY enthusiast there’s revamping the shelves themselves with a new paintjob, for the design-conscious there are endless ornamentation possibilities, and for those of us who take particular pleasure in cleaning this is as good as housework gets.
The more extensive your library, the more satisfying the activity. Here are some ideas:
Craft with Old Books
If you have old books lying around, there are practically boundless options when it comes to transforming them into something else, and often enough doing so takes little more than the learning of a quick folding technique or some glue.
Surely we can all agree that there is a particular magic in an object crafted from what used to be something else. Apart from the endless aesthetic appeal of book crafts they’re also a clever and creative way to get rid of junk.
From bouquets and hanging ornaments to re-invigorated tables and trinket boxes, the possibilities abound. It’s an especially rewarding pastime if you’re a keen gift-giver.
Here are some ideas:
Have a Go at Writing and Illustrating Some Children’s Books
If you have kids, this is perfect. If you don’t, it’s still perfect. And that’s because children’s books offer us respite from the perpetual insecurities and stresses of trying to make something perfect. When your imagination is in the right place, there’s really no wrong way to draw a thing, and there’s not one among us who doesn’t have a simple story within them. Maybe you don’t consider yourself an artist. Who cares? The worst thing that could happen is that you end up surrounded by paints and pencils and paper and books and silliness. Which is not a worst thing at all. And get the kids involved too. Make-up and tell stories together, design daffy characters together, heck, you can even get some costumes going. There are bazillions of drawing and cartooning tutorials out there, so you really don’t have to worry about being experienced.
You can get the whole family involved or you can designate some space for yourself and occupy it with all the lovely, strange and nonsensical things to which you give no attention in your otherwise practical and jam-packed days.
For a full-on parenting triumph, you could also make-up these stories in order to teach the little ones important lessons like the importance of cabbage (yuck) or the need for extra patience and understanding.
Here are some ways to start and some advice:
Make Your Own Books
Just so we’re clear, I don’t mean “sit down and write that darned novel you’ve been putting off for your entire life!” No one needs that extra pressure. What I’m talking about is binding your own books. It might sound daunting, but actually it isn’t. I’ve made a few myself and some of the nicest gifts I have ever received were blank notebooks crafted from scratch by a friend. It’s not even material-intensive. Generally, all you will need is some thread and a needle, some paper, some glue, some cardboard and some fabric – but it’s easy enough to make do with whatever you have.
They make lovely gifts and there are many styles and techniques that you can use (my favourite is Japanese Stab Binding – because it looks great and you get to feel like some sort of gifting-samurai). A lot of people like getting sketchbooks and notebooks as gifts, but it’s so, so much better when they are obviously delighted and then you get to say “I made it myself!” You did what?
Give it a go. It’ll take you a little while to learn and some trial and error, but within a few days you’ll have bound your own book.
Here is an extensive list of tutorials:
And here’s a simple one:
Join an Online Book Club
If you’re the sort of person who is just desperate to talk about everything you read, being stuck at home makes that a difficult craving to satiate. Plus, you’re not always going to a good reaction when you bound over to someone’s home-working desk and shriek “Oh my God, Daniel. You’ll never believe what Lyra’s done this time!” Likewise, you may find that there are those people who are not happy to discuss the finer points of the unreliable narrative concept or the embedded criticisms of dystopian exposition on the phone at two in the morning (don’t know who they are, but they must exist).
Obviously, most physical book groups won’t be meeting for the time being, so now is a good time to look at joining an online book club – so that you can share absolutely whenever you like with whomever you like, stay connected and satisfy that pesky in-depth-analysis bug. It’s also a good way to diversify your circle and introduce yourself to some entirely new ways of thinking about characters and narratives.
If you don’t fancy that, you could always just start one among people you know IRL. There are loads of ways to do it and it’s a good way to stay in touch with people because we’re obviously going to need things to talk about that aren’t just “so, the cat deleted my work again” or toilet paper.
Here are some big ones to join:
And here’s some info on how to set up your own:
Be wonderful to yourselves and each other. Stay safe, stay positive, stay busy.