Book spine mashups

There was a minor book avalanche here last weekend. I removed one from its tower, which toppled unstoppably against its neighbour, and so on, with results that need hardly be described at length. Luckily there were no casualties: no toes crushed or book spines broken, just a torn cover getting torn some more. I took the hint and arranged them more stably. (And yes, I need a new bookshelf, or a dozen.)

It prompted me to carry out a plan that had just taken seed. A little earlier I had come across Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project and immediately wanted to try it. The tangling of titles, the possibilities of ‘found form’ and cut-up wordplay — as a game it was irresistible. I took photos of a few, and have written them as mini-poems for ease of reading and to see how they appear in verse:


How it is

How it is, the way that I went
Into the wild ancient world
Where the wasteland ends.



Chew on this moondust –
Good enough to eat.


Faking it

Soft toys faking it,
Passing for human;
A peculiar people.


Castle dreams

The man in the high castle
In the forest this side of paradise
Dreams on growth and form
In the season of the daisies.


How late

Man’s search for meaning in the Freud archives —
How late it was,
How late.


Inside outer

Genius shifts the moment of truth
From the inside.
Madmen fish for Friday lamb
Five miles from outer hope.


What is history?

What is history?
A liar’s autobiography,
The riddle of the sands,
Tales of power — horror stories —
The wrath of nations, cannibals and kings,
Mighty heroes killing for culture
Burning in water drowning in flame,
Other lives, unfinished tales,
Labyrinths, therapy,
Stupid white men amusing ourselves to death.


If anyone cares to join in the fun, let me know in a comment, through a link to this post, or by email. Thank you to Nina Katchadourian and to the featured authors and editors:

Samuel Beckett, Robert Lloyd Praeger, Jon Krakauer, Betty Radice, and Theodore Roszak (How it is); Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson, Andrew Smith, and Maureen Tatlow (Moondust); Phyllis Chappell, Digby Anderson and Peter Mullen, Jody Scott, and Hugh Leonard (Faking it); Philip K. Dick, Edna O’Brien, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carl Jung, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, and Tom Phelan (Castle dreams); Viktor Frankl, Janet Malcolm, and James Kelman (How late); James Gleick, Adam Thorpe, Ladislaus Boros, Tony Flannery, Roy Porter, Frank O’Connor, Bernard Mac Laverty, and Nicola Barker (Inside outer); E.H. Carr, Graham Chapman, Erskine Childers, Carlos Castaneda, Herbert van Thal, William Pfaff, Marvin Harris, David Kerekes and David Slater, Charles Bukowski, Peter Bagge, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jorge Luis Borges, David Lodge, Michael Moore, and Neil Postman (What is history?).


Also playing:

The Outer Hoard: Bookmash!

Omnium: Cover Story 0001/2, 0003, 0004 – Ch. 1–3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

zompist bboard members: Bookmash game

Mr Center’s Wall: Writing/Photography Prompt: Bookmash; Bookmash #2: By Me

Terminologia etc.: Poesie del dorso

Chris Galvin: Book Spine Poetry

Further examples are linked from subsequent bookmash posts.


37 Responses to Book spine mashups

  1. absurdoldbird says:

    Oh, this is brilliant! Me and book sorting aren’t the best of buddies but I might give it a go (just don’t hold me to that!)

    LOVE your book title poems here, they’re brill!
    (And you’ve cheered me up, too!)

  2. lila says:

    these poems are amazing. what a lovely idea!

  3. gregbrown says:

    These are wonderful found poems

  4. Tim says:

    Makes me wonder just how many books you own, Stan! Since moving to Japan two years ago I have been thinking about switching to an ebook system. When you travel, physical books become just a burden; or they sit and gather dust as they await your return.

    My collection of a mere 110 or so books sits, neatly organised, in a triple decker bookshelf at my sister’s house, awaiting the day that I am able to settle down somewhere and continue my collection; or switch to an ebook system, whereby physical manifestation of literature earn the need for more resilient dust covers.

    Your spinal word mashups made me actually miss my books. Who knows what the future holds. One thing I do know, however, is that I would like to get to the place eventually where more than one bookshelf is needed and there is no hindrance to building a greater collection.

    I have dreams of having shelves of books at my disposal, all in a library of their own. Ebooks simply make for ease of accessibility and flexibility; physical books make for a literary environment that no electronic form can replace.

  5. What a nice thing to get the google alert on this post. I love your sortings. Maybe I could paste in a link here to the project on my page, in case anyone is interested?

    I am hard at work on a few new versions of this project right now, and hope to have them up on my site soon.

    All best

    Nina Katchadourian

  6. Well, I’ve just tweeted you a couple (as @GoldHoarder). Hope you like them. :-)

  7. Sean Jeating says:

    Sorry, Stan. No time for commenting. Have to jump up and find some poems of which I had – well, and right now still have no idea they were/are/might be hidden on my shelves.

  8. Stan says:

    Val: Thank you! I’m happy to hear they went down well. I’d love to see your own, but I won’t expect it unless I see it. If it helps, you could think of it not as sorting but as playful re-sorting.

    Lila: You’re very kind. Yes, it’s a wonderful idea. (I can say this because it wasn’t mine.)

    Greg: Thanks very much.

    Tim: Probably more than I’ll get around to reading! But I love having a wide variety to choose from when I begin a new one, and I do this as often as possible. Physical books can be an inconvenience in some ways, but I’d be lost without them. They create, as you put it, a literary environment. And like you, I’d love to have a proper library; the current arrangement of boxes, piles, and shelves in other people’s houses isn’t ideal.

    Nina: Welcome! I’m glad of the opportunity to thank you personally — digitally personally, at least — for inspiring my whimsical mashups. I had a great time going through the archives of your Sorted Books. I was going to call mine ‘book spine poems’, but this seemed too restrictive; some were less like verse than fanciful phrases and non sequiturs. (By the way, I included a link to your project, and to a few of my favourites, in the paragraph just before the images.)

    Dragon: I do! Thanks for joining in. This one gave me a great laugh.

    Sean: Excellent. I look forward to reading the found poetry you uncover in the shelves at Seanhenge.

  9. Mar Rojo says:

    My contribution:

    A man was drawing near to me
    And oh–that the man I am might cease to be
    A death in the desert
    And there was a great calm

    (“A man was drawing near to me” by Thomas-Hardy.
    “And Oh–That The Man I Am Might Cease To Be–” by D.-H.-Lawrence.
    “A Death in the Desert” by Willa-Cather.
    “And there was a great calm” by Thomas-Hardy.)

  10. Haha Stan now that is an excellent diversion!

  11. wisewebwoman says:

    Marvellous idea Stan, I love it.
    From one pile I get:
    The Holding Ground.
    Mr. Murder.
    Shattered City.
    And it sounds like a plot of terrorists and quite unpoetic.
    I have a handyman here at the moment. One of the tasks is more bookshelves. I have seriously run out of linear space even though I pass most of my books along.
    I can’t see myself Kindling, I love the bookly feel, the texture, the sound of a page turning, the little bookmarks, and ponder on the others who have read the book before me when it is used or passed to me.

  12. Stan says:

    Mar Rojo: I like that. It’s poignant and vivid. Please let me know if you take a photo.

    Jams: It is indeed. Too diverting by half.

    WWW: Your bookmash is like hard-boiled crime fiction — very tense and full of intrigue. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of Kindling or getting some other kind of e-reader, but my dead-tree books will more than satisfy me for now.

  13. Claudia says:

    I’m not sure, Stan. But I’ll try one:

    The Name of the Rose?
    Madame Bovary.
    The Promise?
    Paradise lost!

    (Umberto Eco-Flaubert-Chaim Potok-Milton)

    That was fun. I’ll do more if I can put my French books in the poems. Only the well-known ones.

  14. […] like this one. And it could have remained there, except that recently Stan Carey posted about it on his blog (and on Twitter before that, but it took the blog post before I understood it), including […]

  15. Stan says:

    Claudia: Thank you! A French selection would be great to see, and they don’t have to be canonical. Sometimes lesser known titles work better. Nor do you need a blog or Flickr page, etc., to exhibit them. If you have a digital camera, you can upload snaps to a convenient photo-hosting website like ImageShack.

  16. A super idea, the book sorting. It reminded me of this book staircase. Perhaps, Stan, you could commission your own sorted book staircase to impress guests?

  17. Dear me, a wonky url.

  18. Stan says:

    Mise: Thanks, I had forgotten about that book staircase. How much better it would have been, though, if it told a tiny story or offered a seemingly accidental verse.

    (Wonky URL now unwonky.)

  19. annie says:

    even though this is an older post just read through, I love the idea. Reminds me of the RESCUED WORD series of artist books I am making.. chance making of meaning is almost always more interesting, like the wrong side of sewing has more energy , more crazy line quality. It’s all about surprise. Surprising yourself and tricking gerbil brains running incessantly in their wheels into seeing something new and delightful.
    thank you..
    when I am recuped… book tower poems …

  20. Stan says:

    Annie: Thank you, I like your observations. It’s true, chance and surprise have a lot to do with the appeal of these found poems, and are to a large degree what they share with cut-up writing. Let me know if you get around to making any!

  21. […] This is the eighth ‘bookmash’ I’ve posted. Numbers 1–7 are here. […]

  22. […] over a year ago, I was browsing Stan Carey’s blog, Sentence First, when I came across his book mashups. I’ve been meaning to play with my own books ever since, to see what I could come up with. […]

  23. […] You can see previous examples in the bookmash archives, including links to other people’s. Let me know if you join in, and I’ll add you to the list. […]

  24. […] to authors Hermann Hesse, Chinua Achebe and V.S. Naipaul. Thanks to Stan Carey for the  book mashups […]

  25. Licia says:

    Not as intriguing as any of the book mashups pictured or linked above, but I think you might also like to have a quick look the book piles in I ♥ noun books.

  26. Stan says:

    Thanks, Licia! I hadn’t seen those. I might resort to noun books when another mashup proves elusive.

  27. This is genius. I may need to share this with everyone I know.

  28. Stan says:

    Thank you, Valerie! Feel free to share it with whoever you like. And there are newer ones under the bookmash tag.

  29. […] someone on Twitter posted a link to Stan Carey’s Book Spine Mashup Poetry, and I immediately knew this was something fun that could distract me from research. In order to […]

  30. […] Sentence First: An Irishman’s blog about the English Language […]

  31. Bill Waters says:

    I love “How Late”! Also, I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in having a copy of The Riddle of the Sands on my bookshelf — an old and somewhat obscure title today. LOL!

  32. […] of Nicola Barker’s, Five Miles from Outer Hope, appeared in my first set of book spine poems back in 2010. This is the 40th one I’ve put on Sentence first – the full […]

  33. […] featured: Diski in ‘Antarctica’; Barker in ‘Microworlds’ and ‘Inside Outer’ (and a post on reading coincidences); Smith in posts on compulsive pedantry and mutual […]

  34. […] one of my favourite Irish writers, has featured in a few previous book spine poems and other posts. James Kelman appeared in the first set, back in 2010. ‘Hidden Symptoms’ is no. 47; you can browse the full […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: