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On Book Conditioning

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Question: Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

I treat my books like mothers pamper their babies. Spines of the hardbacks are more vulnerable to breaking so I make sure I don’t shelf them too tight or evenly. It always make my flinch when people pull out a hardback off the shelf by placing two fingers on the top of the spine and yanking the book off the shelf. You’ll be amazed at the number of books that have to been sent to repair because the spines fray from the top where inserts of books are sewn together. Remove from the shelf properly. Reach to the rear to push slightly toward you, then grab the sides with all fingers. Avoid the temptation to pull on the top spine, which is the first visible place of wear and freigh.

I cover some of my trade paperbacks with clear contact. I put trade paperbacks in ziploc bags to prevent folding corners when they are lugged and tossed around inside my messenger bag. I don’t understand dog-earing—there is always handy option for bookmarks, say, boarding pass stubs, receipts, train tickets. For serious note-taking I insert post-its with page references. Any activities that will alter the physical state of my books are not acceptable. Spine of paperbacks is not that strong in the lengthwise direction. After all there is only a thin piece of paper cover stock and thin layer of glue to prevent the spine from bending. When too much pressure is applied, the cover stock starts shearing and coming apart. Serious readers should invest on a bookweight made of soft leather.

The quick answer to all these questions are no. I like to keep my books in pristine condition regardless of how much I cotton up to them. It pains me to see staff tossing and throwing them around when Borders conduct their weekly inventory. Am I obsessive compulsive?

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43 Responses

  1. Do you know, I never even thought about what pulling books from the top down would do to them. I must confess, though, that I don’ think I’ll ever stop doing it – my books are my friends and shouldn’t take it the wrong way if I push them about a bit! 😉

  2. I guess, according to your post, I should be considered a book abuser (although I always coined myself a book lover). I think it’s give and take with my books–they take my time and toy with my emotions (which I willingly give) and I take a little of their physical innocence by my use of them (which makes them feel validated)–like any good relationship.

  3. Good idea: zip lock bags.

  4. Some people at the bookstores don’t read.

    It’s just a job being surrounded by books.

  5. I’m pretty kind to my books too and when I shop for used books I really try to find good copies. If it’s cheap but a raggedy copy then it stays there. I’d prefer to pay more for a nicer one.

    Oddly enough, I don’t have a problem taking an old book apart to make a new one out of it!

  6. Great lesson on retrieving a hardback! I’ll have to pay attention to how I grab them (I have mostly paperbacks).

    I havent thought about a zip lock…

  7. You’re not at all obsessive compulsive — I feel the same way! And as a part-time bookstore employee myself, I try to instill some of that reverence to my friends and co-workers. Hardcovers do still get dropped and ripped, and customers still stack their dirty coffee cups on top of them, but at least I know I’m doing my own (small) part to protect the greater literary world! 🙂

  8. Nice blog!
    You should come and be a guest speaker at the library I work at and give the kids a lesson in proper book care.

  9. This a very well-written, Matt! You always put in so much thought to these posts. I’ll have to check myself next time I’m retrieving a book from the shelf and take care not to rip the spine. While I am not as meticulous as you are, I try to take good care of my books. I employ the bookmarks as well but I need to invest on a bookweight so I don’t have to hold a book that I cannot open flatly.

  10. You are not obsessive compulsive. If you kept all your books stacked flat on the shelf to keep the spines from weakening then you’d be obsessive compulsive. That’s what you’re supposed to do with fragile books and books you want to keep in pristine condition.

    It’s not something I do, though.

    BTW Crime and Punishment is terrific!!!

  11. I’m glad you explained all that about pulling them off the shelves. I see now that a lot of mine are wedged too tightly, and I don’t want to damage them more. So now I have a great reason to buy another bookcase- and fill it up again! Thanks!

  12. I also cover my books with contact, but it drives me crazy when I don’t cover them properly and there are bubbles/creases – it makes me more frustrated than dog-eared pages actually .

    But no, I don’t think it’s being obsessive compulsive. Handling books roughly is the same thing as wearing your prettiest satin shoes out on a rainy day. I shudder to think about both.

    Oh, and isn’t it also frustrating when there’s only one or two copies left of the book you want, and every single one is creased/torn?!

  13. While I appreciate the fact that you treat the books with such loving care only a mother could have for her child, I have to say I think you’ve a bit of OCD…LOL

    I don’t like plastics and tend to use as little of them as possible, you see 🙂

    Gasp, I’m shocked to hear of Borders TOSSING books!!! Aren’t they supposed to love them??? I’d kill to work for a bookstore (to own one actually)

  14. Only tangentially related to the post, but related nonetheless, Chronicle Books (full disclosure: I’m an intern there) is having a Moleskine giveaway. Those notebooks are pretty rugged, so I wouldn’t feel the need to put them in a ziploc, where I might for a trade paperback I really like

    Basically, we’re looking for submissions similar to the ones a site like ‘Skine Art (skineart.com) gets, from readers who can share photos and comments about their Moleskines. We’re encouraging readers to email pictures of what’s in their Moleskine to webmaster@chroniclebooks.com with the subject line “MOLESKINE” in order to enter.

    Five submissions will be randomly selected to receive a free pack of Moleskine notebooks, which will include a Pocket Ruled Notebook, a Pocket Sketchbook and a Pack of Plain Kraft Pocket Cahiers.

    We’ll post the images on our blog and announce the winners in late November, and will upload entries to our Facebook page. The deadline is Friday, Nov. 14th.

    You can find more details on our blog, at http://www.chroniclebooks.com/blog/?p=2076

    Thanks, and sorry for any intrustion!

  15. Ahh… about those staff tossing books, they are not booklovers at all but only work there because it’s their job.

    Great idea about the ziploc bag! 🙂

  16. Thanks for the tips and consciousness raising. I’m hardly knowledgeable on the matter of obsessive compulsive, but I think being a meticulous person with well established habits who takes care of the items he cherishes is altogether a laudable characteristic. The book weight is a terrific idea. I keep meaning to get one.

  17. I cover my books while travelling. Books are precious and should be treated as such but I am not obssessive either!

  18. Remind me never to even look at your bookshelves. 😉 Books are something you treasure and you treat them that way. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

  19. notinparis:
    Just make sure you don’t pull the spine too hard if your shelf the books very tight. 🙂

  20. Heather:
    You can’t be too abusive if you love books. 🙂

  21. Sally:
    I love ziploc although I try not to overuse them. A big one holds a trade paperback and it lasts about 3 months. 🙂

  22. Isabel:
    That makes independent bookstores all the more appealing and interesting. 🙂

  23. Iliana:
    I buy used books all the time but they have to be in at least good condition—no torn pages, no frayed spines and clean. I remember seeing pictures of your boxes of books when you moved, they were so neatly packed and labeled! 🙂

  24. Sunny:
    With paperbacks you don’t have to worry too much. Spines of hardbacks are most vulnerable to serious damage. 🙂

  25. writemeg:
    Amen! I’m so happy to hear that someone else is imbuing that knowledge of book preservation. Consider the size and weight of hardbacks, they are more prune to damage. Other than the fragile spine, the cardboard cover is easily dented if you drop them or toss them around. 🙂

  26. Sabrina:
    Thank you for your kind words. I would love to promote reading and care of books anytime. 🙂

  27. John:
    You can find the leather bookweight at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and stationery stores. Try also Patrick’s on Market St. 🙂

  28. CB James:
    I’m excited that you’re enjoying Crime and Punishment.

    Books are like new shoes and nice clothes to me. I take good care so that they don’t get stained. 🙂

  29. Jeane:
    The ultimate solution is to create space for books and not to shelf them too tight. 🙂

  30. tuesday:
    Creased and torn pages are major problem at my public library, where some patrons have no sense of care and consideration. Some books, especially the DIY ones, are plagued by pencil marks.

    Try to have a ruler handy when you wrap books with contact. Spread and smooth the contact with the ruler to avoid bubbles. 🙂

  31. KittyCat:
    I think it’s the one specific location where the staff conducts a weekly inventory and they go the down and pull books, which they tossed onto the floor in order to make room for more books. I was appalled when I first saw the way they toosed books off the shelves to save time but every now and then, when I stop by on Wednesday morning, I see books thrown off shelves all over the store. Should I say something to the store manager?

  32. Melody:
    Another good thing about ziploc is that it is water proof! It’s go for travel as well.

    I make the independent bookstores my usual stops because the staff are book lovers and readers themselves. Outside of the blogshpere these are people whose recommendation I rely on. 🙂

  33. Greg S:
    Being meticulous and pristine is running in the family. A trait specifically passed down to me by my mother. 🙂

  34. gautami:
    Experience has it that my books suffer the most (for once irreparable) damage during travel. Ripped pages and folded corners. Try ziploc! 🙂

  35. Jennifer:
    I remember when I was a kid the first day of school (in Hong Kong) was devoted to wrapping all our books, including homework exercise books, which my parents had to buy. The form teacher would make the way around the class to make sure we have done so.

    My bookshelves are a bit cluttered at the moment. Books are uneven and some are out of the kilter. I need to get organized when I have time. 🙂

  36. Why am I not surprised? You’re always neat, meticulous and pristine with everything! You should help preserve some of my big design books. 🙂

  37. Lol. In answer to your question, yes. But so what?

  38. I wouldn’t want a book to dogear me or crack my spine, so I abide by the Golden Rule. It never occurred to me to write in a book. I hate it when people give me books as a present and clip the price off the dust jacket–especially when it’s a first edition.

  39. Ken:
    You might want to shelf your oversized Taschen books flat and cover these books with clear contact. Wash your hands before you handle those books to avoid acidification… I can go on and on… LOL

  40. Marie:
    LOL I’m so annal about my books. I’m the type who has to sit at the same table in the coffee shop everyday! 🙂

  41. Jef:
    Price stickers. Why do chain bookstores put price stickers, or any stickers on books? What are they thinking? Why can’t they just scan the barcode on the books? I put post-its with notes in my books. 🙂

  42. […] about as selective as letting someone eating off my plate at the restaurant. Given that I’m extremely fussy about maintaining the condition of my books, I do not extend this courtesy of lending to many people. First and foremost they have to be […]

  43. […] more than I drive. I try not to lay the book flat open because that will crack the spines. Read my tirade on book […]

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