Book care

Electrical tape makes me cringe
My grandfather’s book still has the black electrical tape holding the cover together.
I borrowed “The Lincoln Reader” by Paul M. Angle from my grandfather in ninth grade, when I was getting interested in earnest in Civil War history. The binding was falling apart, so I taped the book before returning it, using, in my ignorance, electrical tape. I cringe now when I see that tape, but at the time I thought I was doing a good deed. My grandfather didn’t see it that way and complained to my mom about my abuse of his book. Now that I know better, I understand why.
Books are more than repositories of information. They can be fine first editions that become collectible for their quality of manufacture and appealing appearance or because they contain the author’s autograph, or they can be cheaply glued paperbacks that fall apart but still are worth reading for the story or the information contained within.
I try to strike a chord between keeping books in good shape and enjoying and reading them. My books aren’t necessarily of museum quality, and the care I give them depends on the book itself, but many are in excellent condition. My everyday dictionaries have torn, weak bindings, but that’s acceptable; they’re my tools. I have others that I keep pristine. Other books, those I read once or twice, stay in good shape and look nearly new, and I follow standards to preserve them.
If I eat while reading, one hand holds the book and the other the food, and I keep the book far enough from the food to avoid splatters. Some books never get near anywhere food. Bookmarks should be thin, and pencils or anything thick should not be used to mark the reader’s place because their thickness can break the binding. Books should not be placed face down for the same reason, and the reader should not bend the covers back more than is necessary to read the print, because excessive bending can permanently warp the spine. A dust jacket is best removed from a hardcover book before reading or before loaning. Dust jackets started as a means to preserve books but now are part of the value and contain information about the book and the author. News clippings, leaves and flowers discolor pages and are best filed in a folder or notebook.
Books should never lean. They should either stand upright or lie on their sides. If stored upright, the shelf should be filled with other books or with solid objects that keep the books vertical. It’s better for books if enough space is left on shelves to allow pulling a book by the sides, not the top of the spine, so you don’t damage the spine and the jacket. Just a little looseness is necessary, but too much allows books to lean, which can warp the spine.
Temperature and humidity should be moderate, and books should be kept away from direct sunlight. If a book is left in a car, it should be covered to avoid the sun. I never leave books lie about the house for fear they will be used as coasters by less discerning people, and if I take a book out in the rain, such as when I read with my goat, I carry it in a bag or tuck it under my clothing.
I have always written my name and the date acquired in books, which raises the question of whether this devalues the book or adds to its personality. Many old books already have a name inscribed, so I consider my name an addition to the books’ travels and history. I also write the date I finished reading the book in the back, and in the back of many books I write page numbers of important passages and of errors. I leave the occasional rare old book unmarked; I can’t bring myself to write in it.
If the binding is falling apart or pages are torn, it is best to leave them be. Cellophane tape discolors the paper after a couple decades and loses its adherence anyway, and binding or other tape, as I learned, ruins the cover material. It’s too late for my grandfather’s book, but now I know better, and never again will I tape a book cover, especially with electrical tape.

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