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Useful Book

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When The Stand becomes ironically handy.
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.


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


    Asian Animation 
  • In Season 7 episode 36 of Happy Heroes, the school students use the school magazines for basically everything besides actually reading them. Lightbulb Jr. uses them as fuel for a fire, another student makes a hula skirt out of the shredded pages, and Little M. thinks the pages make good toilet paper.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dennis the Menace (US): "But it is a 'good book'... to stand on!"
  • 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: Several times, Garfield has used books for purposes other than reading, such as:
    • June 21, 1986: Garfield stands on a book to reach the cookie jar.
    • June 11, 1987, June 5, 1988, and more: To swat a spider.
    • March 31, 1988: Unable to sleep, he smacks himself on the head with a book to try and knock himself out.
    • March 6, 1991: "Look, Odie, a dog with its nose smashed between the pages of a book!"
    • October 3, 1994: "Books are very important. I'm sitting on one to get a better view of the T.V."
    • August 30, 2008, and May 15, 2015, both have Garfield using a book to hide that he's eating behind it.
    • June 2, 2012: "Ah, Alice in Wonderland. A timeless classic. That should keep the table from wobbling."
  • Shoe:
    • In an early strip, Skyler uses a Camper's Guide to start a fire. Literally.
    • Skyler goes to the bookshelf looking for Hulkleberry Finn and can't find it. He asks Uncle Cosmo, who informs him it's under "Furniture". Skyler asks, "Why would Huck Finn be under 'Furniture?'" "Because it's just the right thickness," Cosmo says as he retrieves the book from under an unsteady chair leg.
  • 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.
  • The Wizard of Id. Someone urgently tells a lawyer to come with him and bring his law books. So they can use them to stand on to look over a wall at what's implied to be women bathing.
  • In Zits, Pierce's favourite book in the school library is Atlas Shrugged, which he uses as a pillow.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Evil Dead 2, 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.
  • In The Day After Tomorrow, characters are stranded in the New York Public Library by a life-threatening winter storm. A debate breaks out on the morality of burning rare books as fuel to keep warm and stay alive. It is cut short when someone points out they could just burn the books in the Tax Law section instead.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption: Andy hides his rock hammer in a cut-out shape inside the Bible he keeps in his prison cell, in the book of Exodus to be exact.

  • 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. The easiest way to Kille Insects would be to use the book itself, although since it's done significant damage to a humanoid, that might be overkill.
    • 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.
  • Discussed Trope by one book reviewer:
    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 intellectual 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."
  • In Treasure Island, the pirates tear a page from the Bible to serve Long John Silver with the Black Spot, believing his mutiny has brought bad luck on their voyage. Silver turns this around by pointing out that clearly God Is Displeased with them for desecrating the Holy Scriptures.

    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).
  • In The Golden Girls, Dorothy befriends a local novelist. Sophia mentions a book she wrote and says she goes to bed with it every night. When Blanche asks what it's about, Sophia says she doesn't have a clue, she uses it to keep her bed level.

  • 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 Video 
  • This YouTube video, in which a series of presumably AI-generated reviews of The Horror From The Hills (a Cthulhu Mythos novella by Frank Belknap Long) are given the Dramatic Reading treatment. Most of the reviews themselves, even if one is able to parse the wonky grammar, praise the novella more for its availability in ebook format and its possible use as a topic for conversation than for the actual content of the story.
  • Cream Heroes: Claire builds a paper wall for her cats to play with but the gap beneath it is large enough for them to crawl through. Cue Claire's books being piled underneath to block there way with the subtitle "The true purpose of books.

    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, with a twist— 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: The Animated Series 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!
  • A Bullwinkle's Corner segment, "The Children's Hour", has Bullwinkle reading a book of the same name ("It's a very useful book!") while babysitting three young hellions. He uses the book to spank them.
    Bullwinkle: You think, o blue-eyed children
    Because you have scaled the wall
    That an old moose such as myself
    Is not a match for you all? (to us, after spanking the children) I told you. It's a very useful book!
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Mouse Wreckers", Claude Cat is being driven insane by the mice Hubie and Bertie. Looking up a book on mental diseases, he finds "the very page I've been looking for". He tears it off to make a Napoleon hat.
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Starsitting", Buff-Frog enlists Marco and Star in looking after his dozen baby tadpoles, and gives them a large scrapbook containing info such as his kids' schedules and sleeping habits. Hilarity Ensues, especially when the kids' legs come in (something not covered in the book, to the horror of by-the-book babysitter Marco) and they run around the house causing a ruckus. Star and Marco eventually find another use for the book... for setting off a field of bear-traps standing between them and the youngest, Katrina, when it's almost time for Buff-Frog to pick the kids up.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Dumbbell Indemnity", Homer in prison finds a book from Hans Moleman titled "How To Tunnel Out Of Prison". He says it could be useful...and promptly hits Moleman with it allowing him to escape.

    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. Before you try this, we should note some modern inks and preservatives used in papers can have less than ideal affects on one's health if smoked. (Not that smoking in general is good for you...)
  • In German the noun Schmöker, which entered the general language from North German students' slang, denotes a book that is enjoyable to read but of little or no educational or edificational value, such as a cheap novel you read to pleasantly pass the time. The word is derived from Low German smöken or schmöken "to smoke", and one plausible explanation for the coinage is that students would tear pages from such books to use them to light their pipes. (This was before matches became widely available and affordable).
  • Old phone books and other thick books have been used as makeshift booster seats for small children.
  • In the Soviet Union, certain books (especially by foreign authors that had nothing to do with socialism) could only be purchased if someone contributed enough to Makulatura (waste paper) drives for recycling programs. Sometimes adults would purchase the works of Lenin (which were quite extensive and cheap) to simply tear apart for the paper drives.
    • In the rural parts of the Soviet Union (often without plumbing) would use the same sorts of books on communist theory as toilet paper. People in the cities also used these as emergency toilet paper when there were shortages, but you couldn't flush them down the toilet when done. Soldier often did the same with unneeded documents, sometimes of a classified nature. The CIA ran a reportedly very successful program that involved taking these documents out of the trash or latrine and cleaning the shit off of them.
  • The Sears mail order catalog was hundreds of pages printed on newsprint-style paper, so in many rural parts of the United States it famously had two practical uses: ordering products, and keeping in the outhouse for free toilet paper.note  The Farmers' Almanac served a similar purpose.