Reader’s Digest Condensed Books Crafts

I’ve been collecting vintage Reader’s Digest Condensed Books for about a year now. If you’re not familiar with these books, here’s a blurb from Wikipedia:

The Reader’s Digest Condensed Books were a series of hardcover anthology collections, published by Reader’s Digest and distributed by direct mail. Each volume contained several current best-selling novels (or, occasionally, nonfiction books), abridged (or “condensed”). Published originally four times each year, the rate of publication was increased gradually to a bi-monthly schedule by the early 1990s. The series was produced for more than 47 years (1950-1997), until being renamed as Reader’s Digest Select Editions.

I love these books for their fabulous patterned covers. Reader’s Digest Condensed books are easily found at flea markets and garage sales. Many thrift stores consider them so unsaleable that they rarely have them on the shelves. I never pay more than $1 per book and more often than not find them in great quantity cheap. Often these books have their original paper jackets on them featuring each book title and illustrations. Jacket-coved ones are lucky finds as they kept the rich colored patterned covers vivid over the years.

I remove the covers and keep them stacked up ready to craft with. The book “guts” are stored separately, (musty ones tossed,) and used for crafts as well. Here are just a few fun things I’ve done with my books, but that can also be done with most vintage novels you’re willing to cut into.

Book Page Hydrangeas

Before using the brittle book pages, I cover them with Mod Podge Matte to strengthen the page and keep it from tearing easily when working with.

Once the pages are dry I used the Martha Stewart Crafts Hydrangea Punch to punch out multiple flower blossoms from the reinforced book pages the same size as that of the blossoms on a silk hydrangea flower stem purchased at Michael’s.

I removed random blossoms and their little plastic stamens from the hydrangea head. I scored an X in the center of each book page blossom, placing onto the stamen and replacing on the stem.

I wasn’t quite ambitious enough to replace every blossom, but I think a few here and there looks pretty cool.

Book & Butterfly Shadowbox

Using one of my free digital downloads of a butterfly, I printed the image to the corner of a torn-out book page. To do this, measure your book page and set up a file in your image editing software to that size. Place a cropped out image of a butterfly to the area of the file page where you want it to print and print on your nicest setting onto the paper, Mod Podge side down. I positioned and printed the butterfly at an angle and carefully cut it out with an X-acto knife.

I added adhesive foam dots to the back of the page and attached it to the top of another creating a nice relief shadow.

I folded back the butterfly’s wings slightly and adhered it to the top of the book page at the same angle it was cut aligning it with the text on the page.

I placed the butterfly pages on top of a patterned book cover and placed it into a shadowbox frame. I think a series of these in different colors, patterns and butterfly species would be wonderful displayed together.

Book Page Shelf Edging

I used a tape runner along the ends of a few sheets of Mod-Podge-reinforced book pages and overlapping slightly I created a long runner of book pages. I trimmed the runner down the middle lengthwise and punched the edges with text running off with my Diamond Lace Edger Punch from EK Tools. Folding back a section of the straight cut side, I simply laid a length along the edge of my china hutch tacking here and there with tiny bits of poster putty.

Stay tuned for more crafty fun with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books!

This entry was posted in Book Crafts, collage, Decorating, general craft, Paper Crafts, repurposing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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80 Responses to Reader’s Digest Condensed Books Crafts

  1. #1 - Marilyn McIldoon says:

    What great idea’s Cathe! I have never seen the patterned paper Readers digests before, they are lovely!

  2. #2 - Bette says:

    My mom had a subscription to these in the 60′ & 70′s. She loved to read and didnt drive so these were always a special treat when they arrived in the mail. Boxes of these books were donated to their condo library, when they moved in. Thanks for the memories.

  3. #3 - Shasta Farrar says:

    I just love the hydrangeas…I just pinned them on one of my Pinterest boards. A great project for Spring :)

  4. #5 - Kim says:

    FABULOUS ideas!!!!!!

  5. #6 - Jeannie says:

    Oh, my goodness Cathe. What great ideas! I’m out of the country right now but I’m panicked that ALL the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books in Maryland will be sold before I return home on Sunday. I figure everyone else in the world must like your ideas, too. Happy New Year!

  6. #7 - Jenn/Rook No. 17 says:

    Your projects are wonderful Cathe! I’m a big fan (and collector) of those lovely RD tomes as well. This year, for Christmas gifts I used to the covers to make journals using some of the techniques I picked up at your demo at the Maker Faire last August.

    Happy New Year!
    Jenn

  7. #8 - Susan says:

    I’m feeling like a trip over to my library’s book stall. I’m sure they have a few hundred old books like that over there!
    I love all your projects, especially the shelf edging!
    Susan

  8. #9 - Pamela says:

    This is great to see. I picked up six or seven of the books from a FREE box recently just because the covers were marbled and so beautiful. I removed the covers (as you did) but can’t figure out to do with those covers….hope you will address that in the next post. Thanks.

  9. #10 - Christine N says:

    I didn’t realize that these were out of print now. I’m going to have to be more active about collecting them. I have a few but I’m going to start picking up some more. They are great for altered bookmaking!!!

  10. I love the edging on the pages used as shelf paper. My shelves need a boost in my booth and this is just what they need.

    Thank you!

  11. #12 - Sarah Jane says:

    Brilliant idea, thank you for sharing!

  12. #13 - Mary Ann Potter says:

    Oh, these are fabulous ideas! This goes well above altered books! Can’t wait to try a couple of these things. I don’t have any Reader’s Digest collections, but I have a nice set of old book that I use for cutting and pasting. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Cathe!

  13. #14 - Linda S says:

    You are so clever!!! Love the Book Page Shelf Edging. This would look good with dictionary pages too!! I remember as a kid reading some of those Readers Digest books.
    Hope you have a great New Year and look forward to seeing what wonderful things you share in the future.
    [[Hugs]],
    Linda

  14. #15 - martina says:

    Wonderful inspirations! Looks like I have to drag Mom thriftshopping soon (she shares her senior discount with me). She sometimes just shakes her head when I grab something at the thrift shop and say “Oh, I saw a great crafting idea for using this”. Thanks Cathe.

  15. #16 - Rose says:

    The flowers are my favorite! I love flowers punched from any sort of magazine or book page with words. Great round up of ideas!

  16. #17 - Nana Diana says:

    What beautiful ideas! I LOVE those flowers. I have several of those old books saved. What a great idea to modpodge the sheets first to give them strength and durability- xo Diana

  17. #18 - deanna7trees says:

    love what you did here. great use of the old books.

  18. #19 - {gemmifer} says:

    I can’t wait to see what you do with the covers! Perhaps scan the beautiful patterns so you can reuse them again and again…
    I pinned the covers photo on my Pinterst board. So gorgeous!

  19. #20 - Sandy says:

    What a great idea, I had one thrift store ( went out of business in November) that sold them for a quarter each! I should have bought more! I use some to decorate with and to elevate items up high in shelves. This is a great idea! I nevr look at the patterns, just the spines. I will now! :)

  20. #21 - kate blue says:

    dang-my parents used to have tons of these! we got rid of them when we cleaned their house (before I became a scrapbooker)…love that you only intermingled them in the floral bush…made it more original….now I’mma have to buy a few for some crafty projects!!

    ps-I used another one of your printables (but I forgot it’s name-I had printed the whole sheet on transparancy paper and use them on different projects)-you’ll see it on the blog tonight)- Happy New Year early; I’m going offline for a few days since my Dad does not have wireless internet :( and I don’t own any smart gadgets :(…one day’ll I’ll catch up to this generation electronically.

  21. #22 - Courtney Dirks says:

    Seriously Cathe…you always come up with such fun ideas – I don’t know how you do it! Love the hydrangeas, how clever! I can’t wait to see your next crafty project. Hope all is well with you!

  22. #23 - maggie raguse says:

    Hi Cathe–I have a small stack of these covers, too. I can’t resist the little prints–they look like old-fashioned calico or feed-sack prints and are so appealing. I usually toss the guts, but may have to start rethinking that, too. I need more storage space!!! Can you rent me some in that huge barn??

    Just read my new Country Living tonight, and enjoyed seeing you mentioned in a couple places. How awesome for you. What a great gig.

    Happy New Year,
    Maggie

  23. #24 - Jessica says:

    Just pinned your book page shelf edger onto one of my boards! Great work, thanks for sharing.

  24. #25 - Denise says:

    Oh my! A woman after my own heart. I love these books, the weight of them, the shape of them, but especially the covers! I often find them free at my favorite little senior center thrift store around the corner. Your collection is AWESOME!

  25. #26 - Vicki K says:

    Wow – these are really fun!!

  26. #27 - Susie says:

    Cathe I absolutely LOVE all these ideas! I too have a (althought much smaller) collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I may have to hit up my bargain used book store to see what they have on hand :) Thanks for the inspiration. Happy New Year!

  27. #28 - Suzanne says:

    Love all of these ideas!

  28. #29 - Lizzy Ford says:

    What great ideas. I especially love the edging. I got rid of a few boxes of these books (many of which had the dust jackets still) a few years ago. I could kick myself because since then I have been trying to craft with them also. I did have a few left and made a wreath with one. http://lizzyford.blogspot.com/2011/04/book-pages-wreath.html
    Wish I had those books back to make the lovely edging with. grrrrr.

  29. #30 - Rebeca Trevino says:

    brilliant! love the shelf edging.
    will show us what you do with the colorful papers? and what about the covers? and I bet the part of the spine where the titles of the books are shown. would be great to use in art projects.

    it would be interesting to see if your readers have any ideas. i am an assemblage artist, and i use a lot text from vintage books in my work as background collage. one of my friends made a sculpture inside a wooden picture frame, titled “Condensed Condensed”. she cut Reader’s Digest books so that only about 1 inch of the bound ‘spine’ of the book remained, and attached them all inside the frame, so it looked like a library wall of books. it was stunning! (it looked a lot like the first image you posted here)

  30. #31 - JuliaW says:

    I’m always so amazed at what you come up with! I have a few of the RD books, and I also love their patterns. Thanks for thinking of ways to use them so they won’t disappear. Can’t wait to see your next brilliant idea!

  31. #32 - Jacque Chinnery says:

    What great ideas! I am thinking differently about RD books, especially after seeing the photos of those great covers. Thank you!

  32. #33 - B. says:

    EXACTLY!!!!! So beautiful. Hope prices don’t go up.

    B.

  33. #34 - Peg says:

    What a great idea! I have quite a few of the RD Condensed books too and these are great uses for them. I have thought about laminating the spines for bookmarks.

  34. #35 - Sherri says:

    Thanks a lot for another reason to buy old books. My husbnand will understand, really, he will… I love those covers!

  35. #36 - maryk says:

    oooooh, i’m in love! i have been trying to collect some rd books, but have had a hard time finding them. of course, i didn’t think to start until the yard sale season was over. our used book store doesn’t have them, found a few at an antique consigment store. but i sure never found ones as pretty as yours. all those reds and blues, swoon with envy. mostly ones i found were not really pretty. love the crafts you have made with them. looking forward to seeing more.

    • #37 - Dawn Johnson says:

      I saw this post you write and it says you cannot find any of these books. I have about 30 of these books in very good condition that I am wanting to sell. Still interested in obtaining some of them? I will sell my entire collection. I will get a count to see exactly how many I have if you are interested. Just email me and let me know!

      • #38 - Angie Gamble says:

        If you have not sold your books yet, I would be interested in purchasing them from you. You can contact me at createdbyangie (at) gmail dot com. (Remove spaces and use the at symbol). Thanks!

  36. #39 - Elina Kauppinen says:

    Those old Reader’s Digests look awesome – here in Finland the old ones are all covered with red or brown leather styled covers, those are not that attractive… But yours look neat!

  37. #40 - Lorraine says:

    Oh my! I remember those books in our living room as a child. I even remember reading a few of them, but I don’t remember the beautiful covers! They all had the jackets on and still do. Oh, the possibilities! Thanks for the inspiration.

  38. #41 - Peggy says:

    Cathe, Thanks for the RD book ideas. I’ve been collecting them from garage sales the last few years, and they are addictive. Thanks especially for the mod podge tip – I’m often frustrated because of the brittleness when trying to work with the paper. I’m really looking forward to seeing any future ideas for these.

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  40. #42 - Angie Kiker says:

    While I love the crafting idea you did with the book covers, I didn’t realize until you showed a picture of them stacked how colorful they are. They would look wonderful on bookshelves. Now, I’m on a quest for readers digest books!

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  42. #43 - Shannon(8foot6) says:

    you just initiated a new obsession for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    love them!!!!!!!!!!!

  43. #44 - Karol says:

    I just came across your site from Big Picture classes. I too have a collection of these books – love the covers – I have been using the pages to make a book wreaths – I will give the Mod Podge a try – some of the pages are very brittle. Love your ideas – thanks!

  44. #45 - Anke says:

    Oh oh, I guess I’ll have to bookmark your site, your ideas are GREAT! Thanks for sharing the book ideas – here in Germany, these Reader’s Digest editions will be hard to find, but my dad collects old books with similar artsy covers, so I’ll just take those and make a framed butterfly case for his birthday next week. How very timely :D

  45. #46 - Courtney M says:

    This is beautiful! I was just looking at my Reader’s Digest books the other day and trying to figure out a way to display them so that I could see the beautiful covers rather than the spines.

  46. #47 - Meagan says:

    So cool! I love the patterned covers… I will have to keep an eye out for them next time I’m out thrift shopping. I also love th shadow box idea… would be cool with a favorite novel or a meaningful book as a gift!

  47. #48 - TracyMB says:

    Oooh la la… scrumptious ideas!! :)

  48. #49 - Victoria Ciolek says:

    what a cute idea!

  49. #50 - Christa says:

    I absolutely LOVE all of these ideas. This year, for Christmas, I was looking for cheap/free ideas for decorating. I made paper chains with my little girls using old book pages. The yellowed pages with lines of text are so simple, sophisticated, rich, nostalgic, and modern all at the same time. Thank you for sharing these lovely pics.

  50. #51 - jane marsh says:

    Just stumbled across your page and love it. I love to recycle and try and make something from nothing. Your ideas are truly inspirational. are you on twitter?

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  52. #52 - Dena Cuellar says:

    Im looking for ideas to repurpose the covers. what do you do with them?

  53. #53 - Carolyn says:

    Well, now! What’s old is new again – and again!

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  56. Your book collection is amazing!! (And so are the crafts that you’ve made with them!) I grew up reading the Reader’s Digest condensed books; my grandparents had a huge collection of them- the books covered several walls in their home. I read every single one as a child and teenager and loved all the different stories in them. After my grandparents died several years ago and we were cleaning out the house, I didn’t think to take any of the books since I’d already read them all. Now reading your post has me kicking myself!! I forgot how fabulous those books look!! I’d just always loved them for the stories when I was young, but now I have GOT to get a bunch to decorate with! Thank you so much for reminding me of a long-lost love. :)

  57. #55 - Holly says:

    Two of my most favorite things in the world – readers digest and modge modge! What do you go with th book covers?

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  59. #56 - peter monteith says:

    omg you cut up “The Rainbow and the Rose”!!!
    I love that book, and I love Nevil Shute. Still Nevil was a practical man and would probably be smiling to think he was still being read, if only by four partial words at a time.

  60. #57 - Trudy Connor says:

    I sell books, which thanks to the nook, are no longer selling. I am also a crafter. with over 5,000 unsellable books I have bee looking for a crafty way to sell them. thank you for the ideas.

    Trudy

  61. #58 - dhruv says:

    this is ridiculous! how could you destroy rare books.

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  64. #60 - Evelyn says:

    Just found a few of these in my attic – forgot about them for years. Thanks for the great ideas and the memories from my childhood, when my mom and pop subscribed.

  65. #61 - Lynn says:

    Need the dust jackets 1974-1994 to keep or will copy and return! Love these books in my library – as READING books – but made a rash decision to get rid of the jackets at some point. Help?

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  68. #62 - Marilyn says:

    Do you modge podge the page with the butterfly before printing it? If so, why? Thank you so very much. I love this project.

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  70. #63 - jet says:

    i love this idea, funny i have found out the same out, by preparing paper for later craftings by using mode podge mat.
    it’s working them much better, i ‘m completly agree with you.
    verry lovely and awesome.
    thank you for the great tute and the sharing;-D

  71. #64 - sivi says:

    All of the things look very neat, but I just don’t like the idea of “killing” books. It is probably the first thing you have done that I find inappropriate, all the other DIYs are just wonderful:)

  72. #65 - Teddy Kibourne Blann says:

    Hi Cathe,
    Most impressed with your creative crafting ideas! I have Readers
    Digest Condensed books with covers in excellent bookshelf condition.
    Are you interested in them or know of someone who can use them
    for projects?
    Teddy

    • #66 - Amparo says:

      I read a lot and the Reader Digest Condensed books are my favorite. I had tons of them but when I moved had to give half. 3 months ago I moved again and this time I had no choice but to give them all. If you have any Reader Digest Condensed books please give them to me even if they don’t have those pretty covers. But please spare the inside pages! ;)

  73. #67 - Rose Mary says:

    Cathe, I would love to see some ideas for the RD book covers. My daughter and I have collected quite a few.

  74. #68 - Heather says:

    My 5yr old daughter inherited a house and in the attic, among other antique and vintage stuff, was boxes full of readers digests…all kinds. Their in excellent shape. If you or anyone reading this please feel free to email me at whatnever72@gmail.com I’ll let them go very cheap

  75. #69 - Angie Gamble says:

    Hi Cathe!
    I LOVE all your wonderful ideas and projects! I just started crafting with the Readers Digest Condensed books and I use the book covers. Would you be interested is selling any of your “extras”?
    Thanks much!
    Angie