home decor inspiration

Books behind Books

Now that all we’re home owners and all, we decided to be stereotypical and start hanging out at hardware stores. I’ve been meaning to do something to make our bookshelves more interesting since we bought them three years ago, and with all my books in boxes, this finally was the opportunity I’d been avoiding waiting for. So, for about twenty times the number of hours that I imagined I’ve been working on a little crafty/decor project for the house, I’ve been decoupaging book pages to the backs of our bookshelves, a la Plum Bar‘s gorgeous walls.

home decor inspiration
A corner at Plum Bar, full of poems.

For my project, I found the perfect book: an old edition of The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, edited by Thomas Kinsella. I studied Irish poetry for about a decade, so this was a perfect fit for me…. I did forget I was doing my husband’s shelves first, though, so now I’ve claimed those, and he’ll have my bigger bookcase instead (and I’ll get some extra shelves, hopefully!).

Decoupaging bookshelves with poems
The decoupage in progress — I chose the pages that would be legible quite carefully. The background ones were all less important to me.
decoupage in progress
A few shelves in progress — pages from Thomas Kinsella’s anthology of Irish poetry are decoupaged with modpodge and a clear finish to stained pine bookcases.


I loved not only the content, but since the book was a paperback, the wood-pulp paper (“pulp fiction” refers of course to the low quality of the paper…. as well as what was printed on it…) had decayed into a lovely reddish frame for the text that adds an unexpected variation to the shelves. So now that my set is finished (pics to come), I’m starting in on our other shelves from wonderful Berkeley-based Fenton McLaren, which we purchased unfinished — my husband sanded and stained them three years ago.

We chose books from our local thrift store, Out of the Closet, for his. He cares less about what the words say (“They’ll be covered by books!” — husband man), than about the overall look, and likes how the poetry looked.

So we picked up a range of books — and I found one that immediately piqued my interest: a mid-century paperback collection of poetry called Heroes, Advise Us, by the poet Adrien Stoutenburg.

Thrifted book of poetry
The poetry book we found


It was the American Academy of Poet’s Lamont Poetry Selection for 1964 (according to the gold sticker blazing on its cover), and the back cover has a large, severe picture of the author, who lives, apparently, in “Lagonitas,” California.

Lagunitas is (besides a great beer maker) the name of a small, forested town in Marin County — I grew up on the other side of Mt. Tamalpais from it, so this connection started to intrigue me. But what intrigued me even more was the letter that fell out when we opened it, which reads, in a gorgeous small caps typeface that someone pressed out on the keys of a typewriter, as follows:


Dear Derry,

Did you think I had died and gone to heaven and taken the book with me? I should have returned it sooner, but I had miscalculated the length of the poem. I thought there was only the verse you showed me.

I found the poem intensely interesting, remarkably factual, the imagery vivid in some places, in others obscure to me. As to its merits as poetry, I am not competent to judge. It seemed to me more like prose than poetry.

I am glad you gave me the opportunity to read the poem. It was indeed thoughtful of you and most kind.

As I sit here typing, the thought crosses my mind that I should not offer criticism at all, for I have a deep awe of anyone who gets something published.

Thanks, thanks.

Your grateful neighbor

July 23

So mysterious! Who is Derry? Who is her/his neighbor?

Letter found in thrift store book
Found Letter in Stoutenburg’s book
We are going to include the letter in our decoupage, and maybe the cover as well. I love using old books as decor, but now, with this one, I am starting to feel protective, since it’s not like there were multiple editions. I really think I’ll likely buy another copy, in order to honor the book as a book, for its words’ sake, not just for its pages.

Next post will feature my completed shelves (hopefully with some books on them… that’s going to be a project — I didn’t alphabetize my books the whole time we lived in our apartment [though I did organize them by genre and region], so I am eager to make up for that now with total organization!).

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