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Congratulations! You are the proud owner of a new hardcover book. You may be eager to dive into it, but first you should perform a brief but joyous ritual which will keep your investment looking and working at its best.

We usually consider books with regard to the ideas within them, but every book also has a physical structure which allows you to access those ideas. For maximum reading pleasure, the spine of a hardcover book should be supple, allowing the pages to fall open easily and evenly as you page through the book. The glue and/or thread in the spine of a new hardcover book, though, is quite stiff and unbending, and deserves to be gently conditioned before you commence reading. Conditioning is easy and takes only a few moments. Aside from making the book easier to read, it will also reduce ugly and damaging cracks in the binding that may, over time, cause the book to always open at a given place or even fall apart on you entirely.

Here's what you should do:

  1. Wash your hands and dry them thoroughly.

  2. If the book has a dust cover, remove it and set it aside.

  3. (Optional but recommended) Enjoy the new book smell. Ahhhhh! Repeat as necessary.

  4. Take the closed book in one hand and set its spine on a flat surface, like so:

    
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                     =======
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  5. Supporting the closed pages of the book with your fingers, allow the front and back covers to fall open. The covers may not go all the way to your flat surface at first. If that happens, just let them drop to wherever they'll go, and then gently press them flat, like this:

    
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              ========'====='========
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  6. From the front and back of the book's pages, measure inward with your fingertips about 1/4 inch or 3-4 millimeters. Grasp these pages gently, as a unit, and fold them down onto their respective covers. Run your fingers on the pages along the spine, gently, to reinforce the bend. You should now have something like this (where the '-------' represents a group of pages):

    
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                 ------|||-------
              ========'====='========
    ------------------------------------------
    

  7. Repeat step six until you come to the center of the book and all the pages are folded down onto the front and back covers.

  8. Carefully pick the book up, shut it, and lay it on its side. If the top cover wants to pop open, press on it gently.

  9. Put the dust jacket back on and enjoy.

Using this technique with paperback books

This technique works best with hardcover books, but I also use it with paperbacks, especially those with very thick spines. It helps to prevent extremely heavy creases from developing in the paper binding, a predecessor to breaking the poor book in two. The quality of gluing for paperbacks seems to vary wildly, so be very gentle with the technique lest you accidentally detach a section of pages or leave the book in a permanently fanned out state. (Then again, some of my most beloved paperbacks are fanned out from heavy use, anyway.)

Happy reading!


Mad props to my mother, who taught me how to do this when I was a wee one. Thanks also to J.K. Rowling, whose recent publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gave me cause to remember this little trick.

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