Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How to "Break in" a New Book

New Books: Easing Them into Use

Ever see someone curve back the cover a brand new paperback novel? That's one way to crack it open for reading. However, that's not the best way, the way to make the book last.

A paperback isn't the most expensive thing in the world, so perhaps this isn't the example to go postal over. Yet, it illustrates the lack of care many people take in treating their new books. That lack of care often extends to all their books, even the expensive hard cover ones.

Fitness Stretches for Your Book
Think of a book as a body. It has a spine and attached to the spine are a tight skin (the cover) and taut muscles (the pages). When something pliable is tight, and you fold it quickly and unnaturally, it may snap or break. That can happen to books just like it can happen to living bodies.

When athletes prepare for a sprint or other athletic activity, what do they do beforehand? They stretch! That's what you should do for any new book, too. Stretch the binding that links the spine with the covers and pages to gently release the tension between them. By stretching it, you prepare it for hours of open and closing at your leisure, which makes for a more pleasurable experience for you.

Follow These Simple Steps
Stretching the binding is really simple and will keep the spine from breaking and the book in much better shape for a much longer time:
  1. Stand the book on a flat surface on its spine.
  2. Holding the book vertical, open the front cover a full 90 degrees and press your fingertips along the crease the length of the page.
  3. Keeping the front cover open, now open the back cover a full 90 degrees and press your fingertips along the crease the length of the page.
  4. Retaining the current sides open, return to the front of the book and fold three or four pages open together 90 degrees, pressing your fingertips along the crease.
  5. Repeat this at the back of the book.
  6. Alternate this for more and more pages between the front and back of the book. Although you could go all the way to the center of the book, I find a quarter of the way sufficient.
Once you break in the ends of the book, the middle will naturally follow as you open the pages.

I challenge you to try this and see if it doesn't make using a new book much easier and make it wear much better. Let me know what you think.


21 comments:

Unknown said...

Yes, much better. Thanks for this!

Booksville Bookclub said...

Glad that it worked well for you.

Kathy Vu said...

Thank you for posting this! It was really useful for breaking in new paperbacks. I wish this was taught in schools. Sadly, we don't read as much anymore...

Booksville Bookclub said...

Thank you for commenting, Kathy. Glad that you found this article helpful. I've seen many a misshapen paperback and having worked in a bookstore, I thought I would share a little knowledge to help extend the life of a few "friends" (books).

TFY said...

Thanks very much for posting this. I knew there had to be someone in the world who could recommend a good way to do this. I'm glad Google brought me here. I wish I'd learned this technique 30 years ago.

Some folks talk about "breaking the spine" as if it's a good or at least necessary part of reading a paperback. I used to avoid lending these folks my books. Now I'll just send them to your blog.

Booksville Bookclub said...

Thank you for commenting, TFY. Glad you found the information useful. Please do send others to this page - a book eased in is a book with a longer life.

Anonymous said...

We were taught to do precisely this with new textbooks in grade school. As a result, my McGuffey Reader is still in mint condition today.

Booksville Bookclub said...

I'm delighted to hear it, Festoonic. And thank you for commenting. A testament to how well this technique works.

James said...

If I may:

“Think of a book as a body. It has a spine and attached to the spine are a tight skin (the cover) and taught muscles (the pages).”

“TAUghT” = past partticiple of “teach”.

“TAUT” = “not limp or floppy”

Of course, if a book is a record of teaching, and is a hardback. then it could be described as taught, as well as having “taut muscles”. But both words do not seem to be intended.

Books are our friends. They need to be looked after.

Booksville Bookclub said...

Hi James. Thank you for commenting. This article has been online for almost nine years with thousands of views, and you're the first one to notice the misspelling! Kudos to you for catching that oversight. I'll correct it immediately. I did intend it as correctly spelled, as a metaphor for stretched skin that needs to be relaxed, thus the need to gently flex it so it doesn't snap.

Amy said...

Hello! My 7th-grade son was recently charged $85 for a broken spine (pages falling out) on his 3-year-old algebra textbook (hardcover). He was not rough with it in any way - he used it every day, and carried it back and forth to school. I contend that the BOOK is at fault, not my son! Do you have any advice on how to argue against this fine? I would appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thank you!

Lorraine L said...

I’m glad I’m not the only one that wondered about this. Thank you to all the “physical book” lovers.

Unknown said...

I taut I saw a puddy tat. ;)

Thanks! Very helpful.

Booksville Bookclub said...

My deepest apologies for not responding earlier to your comments, Amy, Lorraine, and Unknown. I had major surgery this past summer and my recovery took literally months, during which I wasn't able to dedicate any time to this blog. I still struggle to contribute to it. Thank you for commenting.

Amy, I'm so sorry your son had difficulty with the binding on his algebra book. I know it's probably way too late to offer any advice now (I was just out of the hospital when you wrote), but let me offer this: It's difficult to know what the cause may have been without examining the book, but it could have been a faulty binding with insufficient or weak glue, poorly sewn pages, or previous damage to the book. I would encourage you to examine your son's textbooks as soon as he receives them and let the school know of damage or the potential for damage immediately. If you look from the top of the book down inside into the spine at the binding, I'd look for discolored, broken and flaking glue, separating fibers or threads of the string used to sew the binding together, and I would flip through the book and lightly tug and some of the pages to ensure they are securely bound. Also look for signs of water or other damage to the book that could also threaten the binding, including mildew or mold. Over folding open of the book at the spine can cause damage, too.

It could be that whoever had the book before your son wore the binding down and your son was a recipient of a damaged book. A good binding shop (or possibly a bookstore) could look at it to see what the problem may have been. Being aware of the condition of his books when he gets them may help you avoid another $85 surprise. I hope this helps. Alan

Unknown said...

As a kid in school back in the 50s, every time we were issued a new text book, right there in class we were instructed in this breaking in process, and went through lthe process under the oversight of the teacher. I doubt this is done anymore, just as correct grammar is no longer taught. Thank you for getting this information out.

Booksville Bookclub said...

Thanks for commenting, Unknown. When I borrow a brand new book from the library I take the time to gently break it in as I describe it here. I doesn't appear the staff does it. Another skill lost to the ages (or a task there's no longer time for), I'm afraid. Glad you liked the article. Thanks for reading!

Unknown said...

I said, "Surely someone knows how to do this!"--if I can google this properly. As a 67-yr-old book lover, I wish I'd known this in First Grade. Thanks so much!

Unknown said...

I'm 82 and curse publishers nightly (I read in bed so the paperbacks are sitting on my chest). I cannot believe it took me this long to Google my question. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Unknown said...

I was taught in school - both paperbacks and hardbacks - but forgot over time ( LOTS of time ), so am glad to het the refresher!

p said...

New books are so nice to hold (especially pocket-size), but my fingers trying to keep it open for long periods of time was wearing on me... Thank you so much for posting this!

Booksville Bookclub said...

Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I'm glad you have found this page helpful. More than 30,000 have read it over the 10 years since I wrote it, which is very gratifying. Here's to lasting books and great reads.

Alan Eggleston
Booksville Bookclub
Book Editor and Avid Reader