I spend my Saturday afternoons volunteering at my library’s shop of gently-used books. Sometimes, stuff that’s donated just won’t sell (e.g., kids’ books with missing/torn pages, paperbacks with damaged spines, hardcovers with highlighting throughout, etc.). The team of workers who sort donations set aside the best of the beat-up—but still usable—reading materials for me to convert into other things. These fun book spine bookmarks are one of the most popular upcycled goods we sell.
If you can get your hands on some for a good price, I especially enjoy using the colorful editions from the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books series for this book spine bookmarks project. Still, any old book spines will do. As you dissect your books, save the rest (e.g., covers, endpapers, inside pages, etc.) to make something else.
Keep reading to learn how to make your own set of book spine bookmarks from unwanted tomes.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Fun fact: Did you know … Carmel’s main library branch is currently housed in a closed grocery store? While renovations are being completed on the building, a former Marsh is where (most of) our community’s books live. Stop by and you’ll see Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood hanging out in the freezer case.
Supplies Needed for Book Spine Bookmarks
- Damaged hardcover books (choose one with an interesting spine that is at least one inch wide and still in good condition/not peeling/crumbling, etc.)
- Bookbinding tape or gaffers tape (this is my choice because it’s so economical and has the perfect stickiness)
- Tassels (I usually buy these because black tassels go with everything, but the colored ones can be nice too or even a simple ribbon)
- Metal eyelets (these are my faves because they look so sharp on these fun book spine bookmarks)
- Sharp scissors
- Paper cutter (if you don’t have one, a metal ruler and X-Acto knife will work too!)
- Crop-A-Dile (this is my preference, but you can use any hole punch and tool for setting metal eyelets)
Step 1: Prep Your Spine for the Book Spine Bookmarks
Pull your book apart to remove the covers and spines. I find that tearing out the endpapers before ripping off the covers makes this step a lot easier.
Then, use your scissors to separate the spine from the covers.
Remove any glue or paper attached to the spine so that you have a clean surface to apply the backing.
Step 2: Add a New Backing
Stick an oversized piece of gaffers’ tape or bookbinding tape to the back of the spine to cover its unfinished, exposed reverse side.
Trim off the excess tape with sharp scissors. No need to be precise. At this point, you just need to remove the extra tape so it’s easier to straighten it out with your paper cutter.
Step 3: Insert the Tassel
Punch a hole at least a quarter inch from the top of your bookmark. Insert a metal eyelet. Set it in place. Pull your tassel through the eyelet. Then, loop it through to secure it in place.
Now you’re ready to use your new book spine bookmark. Use it to keep your place in an exciting thriller, juicy biography, or whatever your latest read happens to be.
FAQs About book spine bookmarks
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about how to get started making your own bookmarks from the spines of old reads, like Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.
Do Homemade Bookmarks Damage Books?
If they are flat, then no—homemade bookmarks will actually help protect your books from damage. If they are textured or have sharp edges, though, they may cause some damage. The book spine bookmarks from old spines from this tutorial won’t damage your book.
Unlike dog-earring pages, homemade bookmarks won’t cause permanent damage to a book. When you crease a book’s page, that page is weakened at that spot where you made the fold (and this makes the page more susceptible to tearing).
What Makes a Good Homemade Bookmark?
The best homemade bookmarks are made from materials that won’t damage a book. I like to stick with acid-free cardstock or heavy paper. If you’re upcycling a book to make a bookmark (like we’ve done in this tutorial), you’ve got source materials for a homemade bookmark that you know won’t damage a book. Flat homemade bookmarks constructed from ribbon, fabric, or metal are also safe bets.
How Big Is the Average Homemade Bookmark?
The beauty of a DIY bookmark is that you can call the shots on what size it is. That said, you probably want to make a homemade bookmark that’s big enough to hold a reader’s place in a standard hardcover novel. As such, you should aim for a size that is at least 2-3 inches wide and 6-8 inches long.
If you are making some book spine bookmarks from Reader’s Digest Condensed Books using this tutorial, your finished pieces will be about six inches long and a little less than two inches wide.
Are Old Reader’s Digest Condensed Books Worth Anything? Should you really be destroying them to make bookmarks?
Generally speaking, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books aren’t considered a collectible old books. They’re hard to sell and usually sit around before getting recycled.
That’s why I see this project as a way to give new life to these old tomes before they get pulped! I use the inside pages and covers for other projects so that the only bits that are wasted and tossed in the trash are some of the glue-covered innards. I’ll share those other projects later this year on the blog.
As far as the value goes, know that very few titles from the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books series are sought after. If you’ve found an old damaged copy, you’re probably safe to do with it as you will. The ones that do have some demand in the book resale market only have value when they are in near-mint condition and still have their original dust jacket.
Okay, You’ve Convinced Me to Make One, Too. So, Where Can You Buy Old Copies of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books?
Most Goodwills, Village Discount Outlets, Salvation Army shops, and other thrift stores that carry books will have old Reader’s Digest Condensed Books At chain resale shops, expect to pay between $2-3 each.
You might also find options at your local antique mall, too. As with other items for sale at antique malls, though, you will probably pay a higher price there.
My absolute favorite place to go to buy old copies of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books is garage sales. Most homeowners will happily sell you a full box for a fair price just to get them out of their house once and for all.
If garage sales aren’t your thing, you might be able to get some for a good price elsewhere. Try estate sales, church sales, flea markets, big used book sales, library bookstore shops (like the one where I volunteer), eBay, or even Facebook Marketplace.