How to Open a New Book?

book-openingSimple. Turn on your device. Download. Read.

Not quite so simple if you are a lover of physical books. I came across this “NOTICE” the other day and I realized I had heard this many years ago, probably from a school librarian. And I’ve basically forgotten to observe these directions all my life.

I think I’ve had the sense not to violently open books at the center, as the connoisseur in this story did, although I’ve seen new books, particularly paperbacks in bookstores, that have been ruined by this treatment.

Most often, I simply open the book at the beginning, and start reading, supporting the left side of the book and not forcing it to lie flat. I have noted that sometimes the binding becomes canted to one side and I wonder now if this might be do to failing to observe this procedure. It is clearly the case that I am pulling the book to one side as I hold it open.

The procedure the “NOTICE” outlines is to place the book on a flat surface with the back or spine against the surface. While holding the pages, let both the front and back covers down onto the table. Then alternately take a few pages at the back and then the front and gently press them down, continuing until you reach the center of the book. Repeat two or three times The idea is to “break in” rather than “break” the binding. Here is another description that includes diagrams:

how to open a book

A post on the Booksville blog suggests that this procedure also works for paperbacks. I would be curious to hear from those in the know if this is indeed the case. The binding is different in a paperback. Clearly I can see that violently forcing the book at the center is not a good idea. I also am wondering if this is the current wisdom among bookbinders, archivists and others who work with books. The notice and diagrams look old and I wonder if thinking about this has changed at all. The “Wikihow” on this subject is more modern and recommends the same procedure and also has recommendations for caring for our books (another post!).

This makes me wonder about the etiquette of browsing a book in a bookstore, which probably could (and might be) a blog post in itself. Should I gently “break in” a book I’m browsing, or leave that to the eventual buyer? Clearly, I don’t want to smudge it with greasy or sticky fingers, or crease pages. I really wonder here what is most considerate to bookseller and book buyer.

What is clear is that I will approach my next new book differently. Rather than just plunge in, I will “break in” first–at least until someone shows me a better way!


6 thoughts on “How to Open a New Book?

  1. Thank-you for the insights Bob! To be honest, most books (unless they are large and/or heavy) I gently open by cusping them in my hands and sitting in a chair with a particular agenda in mind, e.g., reviewing the table of contents, searching the index, skimming headings in chapter of particular interest, just starting from the very beginning with fiction that I’ve been desiring to read 🙂 Unless a large, heavy hardback, I rarely read a new book at a desk. Now if I’m working in a library on a paper, I’ll use a lot of books at a desk/table, but they’re rarely new and stay open all too easily. . . .

  2. I’ve been working with some old books and have learned there were definite differences in quality among bookbinders and/or publishers – with it going down in subsequent editions – the originals I have are still seemingly is just as good a shape as when they were new while the later ones, which are the ones I actually originally ran across – saving them from a dumpster, maybe that’s why they were there – are falling apart – I’d love to either learn more or find a bookbinder, but somewhat in keeping with originality and sentimentality in this particular instance in passing it back to the son of the original owner, at least as stamped in it, I merely color copied the cover of one of the better editions and the cheaper one having one of those cloth covers which had come off, especially with the spine being broken, as you depicted, so its cover having come off as well, while I believe the better ones had the cover illustration stamped directly onto the actual hardboard cover, so I pasted the illustration copy I made onto this cheaper one’s hardboard cover with the cloth cover being taken off as it practically had anyway as well as doing the same thing with a new spine cover – it at least meant a lot to the son to have the combo of seeing it somewhat as he remembered it but also having all the original materials there as well to see what had happened and be able to understand and remember probably why

  3. Pingback: 6 movimientos para abrir correctamente un libro nuevo

  4. Pingback: Caring for the Books You Want to Keep | Bob on Books

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