Treasuring Your Tomes
Books can be so many things. They can be a portal to another world in which to escape. They can be a form of entertainment. To some, they mean knowledge. To others, they mean comfort. I’ve even heard of books being described as old friends. Some people display them in colourful stacks like arranged flowers adding their personality to the room. Some people lend them out, donate them, and gift them to friends and family hoping to share experiences and understanding. But for those with more than a few “keepers” in their homes, it’s important to take the proper precautions in order to cherish your “old friends” for many years to come.
Crack is Whack
If a book with a broken spine leaves you with a broken heart, follow these simple steps to avoid cracking the spine when opening a new book.
- Never force a book open. You also shouldn’t open a book down the middle when you first handle it; instead, you need to break-in the spine to keep it from breaking. Start by removing the dust cover and stand the book vertically on a clean, hard surface with the spine down.
- Holding the pages upright let the covers fall open.
- Then release the pages in 1/4-inch batches on alternating sides, pressing the pages gently as they fall. As a child, I was taught by a school librarian that if you rub the side of your hand along the seam of the pages and build up some heat it will warm up the book’s glue and make the spine more flexible during the procedure.
- Continue in this manner until you get to the center of the book. All done! Now you can start reading. Just remember not to lie the book open with the pages facing down this can also damage the spine. Just use a bookmark or scrap of paper to mark you place instead.
I Like My Books in the Same Manner as I Enjoy My Humor: Cool and Dry
Some paper-book purists are against the digital book revolution because they prefer the tactile and aesthetic pleasures of print books. In fact, a quote regarding the distinctive smell of books from Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide has been making the rounds on Facebook:
“Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin.When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us?”
If you want to retain that prized book smell, then it’s very important to guard against humidity. Humidity brings with it mold and mildew, and that doesn’t make for a very pleasant smelling library. If your books do mildew, try rubbing the offending spot with a dry cloth and leaving the book open in the sunlight for about 45 minutes (but not for too long or the book may start to fade). If the book is very valuable, take it to a specialist in book conservation before trying to clean it yourself.
Don’t err too far on the other side of the spectrum either; dry heat can crack leather bindings and make book glue brittle. Keep the books away from heat sources like the air vents.
Books Need SPF
Try to store books, especially any which are older or treasured out of direct sunlight. Sun will permanently fade dust jackets and covers, which can severely devalue rare books. If your shelves are in sunlight and there’s nothing you can do about it, wrap the dust jacket in a UV-resistant plastic book cover (available online). The plastic will protect the dust jacket or book cover from the oils on your hands, and from dirt and over-handling. If your older books are paperbacks, use book sleeves made from the same material as the covers. UV covers also make cleaning easier; just remember to dust from the spine outward so that the dirt doesn’t collect in the pocket behind the spine.
Whether it’s a textbook or a signed first edition, we don’t judge books by their covers; we love them for what’s on the inside. I have many dog-eared treasures obtained from the discard pile at the library or found at the local flea market. The signs of wear shown by these books are reminders of how loved they have been in the past; read and reread, carried around in a purse, dropped from the hand of someone drifting from reality to unconscious dreamscapes. But for the books in your collection with a lot of monetary or sentimental value, or for those which need a little extra care, it doesn’t hurt to take a few precautions.
What are your tips for keeping your books in good condition?