This is not a book," reads the introduction to ReadyMade. "It is a picture frame, a straight edge, a demonstration of how gravity works (look how swiftly it falls from your hands!), and a good anchor when your balloon is in danger of floating away."
But ReadyMade, in fact, is a book: a waste-not/want-not "atlas of suggestions" for putting your household recyclables and just plain junk to added, unexpected, practical use. Paper, plastic, wood, metal, glass, and fabric: These are the raw materials we're talking about, and here's the book's first suggestion, as described on its back cover, an unjacketed cover made of politically correct pulp:
Go to it (the back cover), literally, with a knife. (The size of the rectangular opening you're making is plainly indicated.) Now put a picture of yourself in the opening you've made. (That'll discourage thieves.) Then sign off on it on the dotted line, which is also provided. As are, inside ReadyMade, instructions for turning old phone books into a coffee table; a colander into a light fixture; a wood pallet into a bike rack; a stack of beer cans into a room divider; a chest of drawers into an "Eames-style" shelving unit; a pile of plastic water bottles into a lounge chair; and a FedEx mailing tube into a wall-mounted CD rack.
Who came up this stuff? Grace Hawthorne, publisher of ReadyMade (the magazine), and Shoshana Berger, editor of ReadyMade (the magazine), are the authors of ReadyMade (the book), and they freely admit, "We have no special skills whatsoever." What they do have is wit, imagination, and an everyman or -woman approach to more than 60 domestic projects you too can do.
Some of these projects are elegant. (See the windshield fireplace screen.) Some of them begin and end in goofiness. (See that water-bottle lounge chair.) All of them, though, come with an estimate of the time and money it'll take, a list of the materials and tools you'll need (with beginner instructions on how to hammer a nail), and an "evolutionary scale" that runs symbolically from ape to man: meaning, on the easiest level, "any dolt with opposable thumbs could make it."
Shoshana Berger is no dolt. She writes on a whole host of topics: trash management (office paper being a biggie); chopstick etiquette; how to tell a good story ("even if you weren't born in the South"); how to make an Ingmar Bergman film (start with "an ill-fated subject" and film it in black-and-white, "the cinematic equivalent of a migraine"); and how to avoid a facelift: rule #1: Don't smile; rule #2: Don't think.
But don't let the rough exterior of ReadyMade fool you. The inside photography by Jeffery Cross, the illustrations by Kate Francis, and the page design by Eric Heiman are superslick and superb. Together with Berger's text and Hawthorne's project descriptions, they make ReadyMade a good last-minute stocking stuffer for that eco-minded do-it-yourselfer on your list. ("Stocking stuffer": It's #18 on the list of "Alternative Uses For This Book.")