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Useful Book
A standard visual gag almost always Played for Laughs.

Alice is looking for something. Maybe it's a new outlook on life, help with a homework problem, or maybe just her pen. Bob hands her a book, or suggests a book he doesn't have with him, and suggests she shouldn't take too long to finish with it, and before she can thank him or object, he's out the door.

Cut to Alice suddenly realizing the book in question is a Doorstopper — and Bob expects her to finish in half an hour. It might be a religious text, a very wordy legal document, a dictionary, an obscure scientific (or arcane magic) textbook, the phone book, a catalog with no index, possibly even a Tome of Eldritch Lore or Great Big Book of Everything - anything that normally would take longer than an hour or so to read through.

Later, it's revealed that Bob actually gave her the book:

For more book-themed humor, see:

Compare It May Help You on Your Quest, Magic Feather, and Pocket Protector, where other objects are used for purposes other than for what the audience may have been led to expect. Contrast Reading Is Cool Aesop.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • The Yellow Pages used this at least once, with a small boy standing on a copy to kiss a slightly taller girl.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dennis The Menace (US): "But it is a 'good book'... to stand on!"
  • In Zits, Pierce's favourite book in the school library is Atlas Shrugged, which he uses as a pillow.
  • Foxtrot
    • Paige asks to borrow one of Andy's favorite books. Andy is excited and happy until Paige returns with the book two seconds later, explaining that she just needed it to kill a spider.
    • A similar comic had her remarking on Peter borrowing a bunch of books like the encyclopedia set and dictionary; it turns out he was just changing a light bulb.
  • Garfield: "Books are very important. I'm sitting on one to get a better view of the T.V."
  • In an early strip of Shoe, Skyler uses a Camper's Guide to start a fire. Literally.
  • In one The Broons strip, Maw is horrified by her family's table manners (mostly complaining about the wobbly table with their mouths full), and gives them an etiquette book. Paw quickly realises that this could solve their problem; the wobbly table.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Evil Dead II, Ash uses Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms to weigh down his possessed, amputated, killer hand. Give it a second...
  • In Iron Man 2, Phil Coulson uncovers a partially completed red, white and blue shield with a star in the center. Tony exclaims "that's perfect! Just what I need!" and then uses it to prop up the Particle Accelerator he is working on. "Perfectly level," he says, pleased afterward. It should be noted that there are multiple actual books also being used to prop up the particle accelerator. (As well as several of his cars, a motorcycle, and pretty much everything else in his lab.)
  • In Wagons East, a man goes into a bookstore and asks for "a big damn book". The proprietor offers a copy of Pride and Prejudice. The man tears several pages out and makes for the outhouse.
  • In Die Another Day, Q gives James Bond the Doorstopper manual of his new car. Bond throws the book in front of the car, triggering the shotguns under the hood which promptly shoot it to confetti.
  • In Mirrormask, Books are used as food for sphinxes (as they love to eat the pages, and get distracted by a good book) and to fly on (they return to the library when insulted and thrown with great force). There's also the Really Useful Book, which dispenses good advice but becomes this trope when, in a Heroic Sacrifice, it suggests that Helena tear out its pages to feed a pack of hungry sphinxes closing in on her.
  • In Without A Clue, a clue requires a Bible. Sherlock Holmes exclaims "I have a Bible!" and runs and gets it out from under one of the legs of his bed.
  • In Ricochet, the villain asks for a large bible from the prison reading cart ... to use as a prop to force his shattered knee back into alignment.

    Literature 
  • Discworld
    • Brother Oats does this in Carpe Jugulum. He consults his holy book for advice while he and Granny Weatherwax are freezing to death in a downpour and unable to find any kindling, and finds the passage "Where there is darkness, we will make a great light." That gives him an idea for how to warm themselves up...
    • Also, the Doorstopper book How to Kille Insects.
    • Cohen the Barbarian can't read very well, but he thinks a book is always valuable equipment, especially one with thin pages.
    Nomad: What is it that a man may call the greatest things in life?
    >Cohen: Hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper.
  • Lampshaded by one book reviewer:[1]
    But perhaps the book had other virtues. Maybe, just maybe, this 1,168 page book could save someone's life if they were being shot at. Just to make one thing clear: I, in no way, advocate the use of fire arms to maliciously deface intelectual property. I wouldn't have tried this on The Scarlet Letter which is 272 pages and which I equally disliked. I was going to shoot The Stand in the name of Science and public safety. The answer is no, my friends. 1,168 pages are not enough to save your life from a .45 slug.
  • Averted in The Recruit. James and Kerry find a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare in the pack they're expected to carry through a tropical jungle. Naturally they throw it away to save weight, only to later realise that they were supposed to keep at least part of it for use as toilet paper.
  • In Harry Potter, Professor Flitwick, who is very short, frequently sits or stands on top of books so he can see the whole classroom. Though being a Hogwarts professor, he definitely uses books for their intended purpose as well.
  • In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman gives examples of Useful Television: a TV set being used as a light to read by, as a way to display teletext, and as a bookshelf:
    "I bring forward these quixotic uses of television to ridicule the hope . . . that television can be used to support the literate tradition."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Hancock's Half Hour TV episode "The Missing Page", a librarian is impressed when Hancock asks for some weighty intellectual tomes, only to discover that Hancock just wants to stand on the books so he can reach a sleazy crime thriller on the top shelf.
  • Cited recently by David Letterman, three times.
    "Dick Cheney's written a memoir of his life, a thousand pages. You can actually use it to stand on to reach a better book."

    "Sarah Palin has finished her book. It's a big book, over 400 pages. So when you go into the bookstore you can use it to stand on to reach a better book."
And again, with George W. Bush's memoir.
  • From Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    "How do they put budgies down?"
    "Well, it's funny you should ask, because I've been reading a great big book on how to put your budgie down, and apparently you can either hit them with the book, or shoot them just above the beak."
  • In Home Improvement, Jill mentions that she gave Tim a copy of The Feminine Mystique, but that he uses it to prop up his workbench. Subverted later on, though, when Tim reveals that he did read it (he mis-refers to it as The Feminine Mistake, but the point still stands).

    Theater 
  • In Molière's play Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies), the character Chrysale reproaches his sister and women of the day in general for neglecting common sense and ordinary household duties in their obsession with their studies. He says that all of her books are useless, except for a big Plutarch which he uses to put his bands in to keep them flat.

    Video Games 
  • In Super Paper Mario, you get a clue in a scroll to find an old treasure. Alas, toilet paper for Fleep.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • On the Looney Tunes Wartime Cartoon "Brother Brat", a woman gives Porky a child psychology book to help him take care of her little boy. After the child runs amok even after Porky has followed every bit of advice in the book, the mother shows him the proper use of the book... to spank the daylights out of the brat.
  • The MGM Barney Bear cartoon "Wee Willie Wildcat" had a similar plot, but tweaks it a bit— Barney and the wildcat's dad spank Willie with their bare hands, and end up sore because Willie used the book to armor his butt.
  • One episode of Disney's Hercules used this both ways. A professor told Herc to beat an opponent with a scroll, so Herc threw it at the guy hard enough to win. At the end of the episode they run to the library and while the professor evaluates the scrolls on the basis of their weight Herc looks up the opponent's weakness.
  • A VeggieTales music video of "A Modern Major General" has Archibald Asparagus singing the song and constructing a staircase of tomes in time with his singing.
  • The Magic School Bus: Ralphie asks D.A. if he can borrow her new physics book. She does not appreciate finding out he used it to replace the missing first base. Never treat a bookworm's book like a piece of baseball equipment!

    Real Life 
  • Books with thin pages, such as Bibles or certain textbooks, are sometimes cannibalized as rolling papers. An urban legend claims that Joseph Conrad taught himself English by using a pocket Bible this way, reading one page at a time before rolling himself a cigarette.


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