Columns > Published on December 13th, 2012

Five Cheap DIY Gifts For Book Lovers

Your list of people to buy for is big but your budget is small. What’s a generous soul to do? You could try to re-gift the Fifty Shades Of Grey you won as a door prize at the swingers’ club or the Grieving For Dummies you were given after your last goldfish died. You could stalk Amazon’s lightning deals 'til the wee hours. Or you could create handmade book-related DIY gifts for your loved ones. The crafty route seemed like a sensible way to save a few dolla bills, so we fired up the glue guns, old books, and spray paint and got to work.

Now, Pinterest and Martha Stewart would have us believe that any jackass with twenty minutes to spare can fashion a plethora of magical holiday décor using only pipe cleaners and sheer force of will, but we recognize the spuriousness of those claims. That’s why, in an attempt to assess the actual difficulty of each project for the kind of people who would never dream of signing up for a Hobby Lobby credit card, we assembled a diverse crew of craft-challenged friends, filled them with mulled wine and spiked eggnog, then let them loose with only the instructions provided by the internet. Here’s how it went. Learn from our mistakes then have a go at making do-it-yourself gifts for the writers and book lovers in your life.


Project 1: Book-Page Wreath

At first, telling a bibliophile to chop up a book to make a wreath seems akin to telling a PETA member to club a baby seal for fun. But there’s a good chance you’ve got some craft-worthy material sitting around the house if you look hard enough… water-damaged mass-market paperbacks in the basement, early drafts of your bestselling novel, a 1998 Writer’s Market, that Sarah Palin (or, if you roll that way, Rachel Maddow) biography you were given by someone who is unaware of your political ideology. Give them new lives in the form of holiday decorations like this wreath. It beats using them as toilet paper.

What you’ll need:
• Hot glue gun
• Book pages
• Styrofoam wreath base (about $5 at any craft store)
• Stapler and scissors (for some types of wreaths)
• Ribbon (if you’re feeling fancy)
• The ability to avoid repeatedly burning your index finger with hot glue

How to: These puppies are selling for $30 to $150 a pop on Etsy, so you’d think they’d be tough to make, but they’re deceptively easy. There are a few different methods shown online, but they all boil down to this: Tear out book pages, fold or bend them in whatever way strikes your fancy, stick them onto a foam circle. Voilà, holiday cheer!

The variations primarily concern whether or not to stain the edges of the pages to create more depth and how to shape the individual pages. I can’t be bothered with fancy stains so I grabbed a green highlighter off my desk and highlighted the shit out of all three edges of the pages before ripping them from their binding. (It should be noted that we respectfully thanked the writers for their work before destroying the books—like saying a prayer before dinner… except directed at the editors of “the best dictionary for the eighties!” rather than Jesus. We are nothing if not respectful.) In terms of shaping the pages, you can bend the pages into cones, fold them like an accordion, create fancy flowers the way our craftiest participant did, cut them into leaf shapes, or just sort of wad them up. Whatever. Just keep telling yourself: It’s supposed to look like a wreath, and wreaths are made of plants, and plants are organic and imperfect. Once it’s all fluffy with pages, tie a piece of ribbon on the back to hang it. If you’re feeling especially festive, stick a big red and green ribbon on the front.

Things you’re gonna wanna watch out for: One crafter papier-mâchéd the actual foam before starting to add flowers to it (told you she was the craftiest of the group). She put it into the oven to harden it (because I guess that’s a thing you do with papier-mâché?) and the Styrofoam wreath base exploded a little. Avoid explosions. Don’t put Styrofoam in the oven.

Also, it’s extremely easy to burn your fingers repeatedly with the glue gun as you try to fill in the empty spaces with pages. Avoid blisters and pain. Use a pencil rather than your finger to push the pages down onto the base.

Difficulty level: It’s pretty hard to mess up so 2 out of 10


Project 2: Secret Hollowed-Out Book / Kindle Cover

This is the perfect gift for the hipster friend who wants a more analog way to carry a Kindle or the writer who needs a super-secret place to keep their lucky pen.

What you’ll need:
• Big-ass sacrificial book
• Box cutter
• Elmer’s glue
• Unfathomable reserves of patience

How to: This one is far easier in theory than in practice. Here’s the problem: You need to use a thick hardcover book, but cutting a rectangular hole in a dense book takes forever. And ever. Also, you stand about a 40% chance of boring yourself into carelessness and lopping off a finger with a box cutter. So while not difficult on a technical level, this one is not for the faint of heart. 

The first step, according to reputable instructions, is to leave a few pages at the front then glue the rest of the pages together by painting a 50/50 mixture of Elmer’s glue and water along the edges. Our Kindle cover crafter skipped this step—just opened her up and started chopping away. As a result, the pages were shifting as he cut them, so when he crammed the eReader into the roughly Kansas-shaped hole he’d created, the book sprung open like mall doors on Black Friday. Also, it appeared to have been made by a seven-year-old and was, thusly, not fit for gifting. Do not skip this step.

Once the pages have dried, draw lines where you want to cut then using a ruler or other straight edge to create straight cuts. Keep cutting and cutting and cutting and cutting…until you get a hole deep enough to store precious secret business in. This will take time. When you’ve finished, use the glue solution to paint around the inner edges of the cuts. If you want, you can line the cavity with felt or human flesh to make it more elegant. If you’ve remembered the glue step and been precise with your cuts, you now have a super-secret hiding place to gift to your most paranoid bibliophile friend.

Things you’re gonna wanna watch out for: Our secret-compartment book project turned out even worse than the Kindle cover. The crafter did glue the edges before he started to hollow out the book and used the edge of a ruler to create straight cuts, but he got maybe 100 pages in before he started whining. “I don’t wanna do this anymore. Do I have to keep going?” I used mulled wine to bribe him to continue for a while, but the third time he asked, I felt like a real craft tyrant and told him to call it quits. So the compartment ended up big enough for a few slices of cheese or something and, again, appeared to have been carved out by an angry seven-year-old with a butter knife. I blame myself for bribing him with booze. Avoid booze and projects that involve cutting perfectly straight lines for long periods of time.

In his attempt to “clean up the edges,” he made the most impressive mess my dining room has ever encountered. A ticker tape parade would’ve been easier to clean up. Try to make clean cuts the first time around so you don’t end up with a gazillion infinitesimal flakes of paper on your floor.

Difficulty level: Given that neither participant was able to finish, I’m giving this one a 7 out of 10


Project 3: Animal Bookends

This one doesn’t require a sacrificial book and is so dead simple that not even our bungling crowd of craft novices was able to screw it up.

What you’ll need:
• Plastic animals of your choosing
• Spray paint
• A large but attractive rock
• Super glue
• Someone to high five when the finished product looks awesome

How to: You can get big bags of plastic animals on Amazon, but then you miss the most delightful part of the process: watching a confused cashier ringing up pair after pair of plastic animals while you wax lyrical about saving two of each species for the coming apocalypse. Your choice.

Once you’ve selected your animal friends, it’s time to cover their smiling faces and expressive eyes with blood red spray paint. Take them to an outdoor area to avoid asphyxiation then give them two or three even coats of paint (any color). Let the paint dry in between coats to avoid drippage. Once your little buddies are dry, super glue their hooves/paws/whatever onto a rock. Be sure it’s heavy enough to support a row of books. If you want, you can paint the rock to match the animal before you glue the creature to his eternal ball and chain. It looks nice either way.

Things you’re gonna wanna watch out for: Super glue adheres to skin. Avoid gluing your fingers to your face, the rock, the animal, or another human being.

Difficulty level: Even we got this one right the first time, 1 out of 10


Project 4: Literary Mugs

The perfect present can be used to put coffee in the recipient’s face and display a favorite literary quote. At the SAME TIME! Who wouldn’t fall to their knees with joy upon receiving a gift this versatile?

What you’ll need:
• Plain white mugs
• Sharpie or permanent paint markers suitable for writing on ceramics and glass
• Some semblance of artistic ability or, at the very least, legible handwriting

How to: Craft store personnel will tell you to buy all manner of paint brushes and expensive custom paints for this project. Ignore them. Unless Bob Ross has taught you how to paint happy little trees freehand, you’ll have a much easier time creating decipherable words with a marker than you will a brush, and the pricey paints aren’t necessary. We preferred Sharpies.

Rinse your mug off with water (no soap) then dry it with a soft cloth to remove any dust or other debris that may be clinging to its surface. Choose a quote that means something to the gift recipient. If you know their favorite author or book, you can search for a quote on Goodreads.

I’ve got shakier hands than a methed-up tambourine player, so I penciled in some lines and my design before committing, but if you’re steady-handed and arty, just go in for the kill. If you’ve used a paint specifically formulated for ceramics, you might be done. Consult the instructions on the marker. If you’ve used Sharpie, you’ll need to set the ink. Chuck it in the oven at 350 degrees for half an hour.

Things you’re gonna wanna watch out for: A journey through the hot dishwasher could dull the finished mug, even if you’ve baked in the goodness, so you should advise the recipient of this fine gift to hand-wash it for a lifetime of use. It stands to reason they shouldn’t use steel wool on the thing, leave it in the sun for days at a time, or taunt it in any way. Avoid disappointment and provide washing instructions.

Difficulty level: 1-8, depending on the crafter’s level of artistic ability and the (un)steadiness of their hands


Project 5: DIY Magnetic Poetry

What kind of a sucker pays $20 for a magnetic poetry set when you could make your own for $1.50? Not you, my friend. Not you.

What you’ll need:
• Sheet magnet with self-adhesive on one side (less than $1.50 per sheet)
• A book featuring a variety of good words (most anything with the exception of the new Ke$ha bio should work)
• Xacto knife and/or scissors
• Ruler
• The good sense not to carve Xacto tracks into your dining room table

How to: Peruse the book looking for interesting words. If you really want to personalize the gift, choose their favorite poem, chop it up and challenge them to remix “The Raven” into a parable about a cheerful bird who becomes BFFs with a freewheeling angel who sidelines as a detective. It can be done.

Peel the backing off the magnetic sheets to expose the adhesive. Grab your handy-dandy Xacto knife, clip the bits you’ll want to use, then stick them onto the sticky side of the magnet. Depending on the font size of the book you’re using and the fatness of your fingers, it might be easier to place the tiny words using tweezers. Use scissors to cut out strips of words then revert back to the precision of your Xacto to cut each word out. It’s faster than it sounds. Stick them all in a decorative box, slap a bow on it, and you’re good to go.

Things you’re gonna wanna watch out for: Keep in mind that you’re going to need a healthy dose of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and verbs as well as plenty of articles and prepositions. Try to balance it out. Suffixes are also useful to have in the mix. Throw in quite a few “ed,” “s,” and “ing” magnets so that the lucky gift recipient can talk about creeping as well as creeps, getting hammered as well as using hammers. Avoid providing all negative words about murder and STDs and dead babies unless you're gifting to your worst enemy. It wouldn't make for very cheerful holiday poems.

Difficulty level: Virtually impossible to mess up, 1 out of 10

Have you ever hand-made a holiday gift? Was your experience as hopelessly amateur as ours? God, I hope not. Tell us about it in the comments, particularly if you decide to try one of these this year. Have a great whatever-you-celebrate.

Header image via Kimbrough Library

About the author

Kimberly Turner is an internet entrepreneur, DJ, editor, beekeeper, linguist, traveler, and writer. This either makes her exceptionally well-rounded or slightly crazy; it’s hard to say which. She spent a decade as a journalist and magazine editor in Australia and the U.S. and is now working (very, very slowly) on her first novel. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two cats, ten fish, and roughly 60,000 bees.

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