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Exercising Literacy

Posted by Dirck on 25 January, 2010

Last week I mentioned properly exercising the spine of a book. This is something I mean to put into my website, but since I’m moving quite glacially in the book side of the site, I’m going to cover it here.

When a book is new, it should in theory have just come from a series of clamps and presses all aimed at making it the densest object it can be. Exercising it returns some of the lost flexibility to the spine, giving it some direction in its future opening. It’s also not a bad idea to treat in a similar manner books which have stood on a tightly-packed shelf for some years.

The first step is to take the closed book and set it so that the spine rests on a table top– as if you’re about to let it drop open to a random page. Don’t, however, just let it drop open. Carefully lower only the covers to the table while holding all the pages upright, which gives you something shaped like an inverted T with a rather thick stem.

Now, in very small doses of five or ten pages at a time, let sections of the text down onto the covers. Run a hand along the valley, where the section you just released meets the still-upright portion of the book, to smooth it down so it lies in a relaxed manner. You want to alternate sides when doing this, working incrementally towards the middle of the book. The last smoothing gesture along the valley should occur at just about the centre of the book, and when done should leave you with a book sitting happily flat and open on the table you’ve been working on.

None of this applies to paperbacks, of course– this will do just as much damage to the glue that holds the papers together as regular reading on those sad creatures. The closer to a traditional flexible binding your book has, the more good this will do it. The very cheaply-bound modern hardcover will hardly profit by it at all, since they’re essentially disguised paperbacks. The slightly-less-cheaply-bound ones, which have the pages arranged in signatures which are gouged and glues, take a little more good from exercise, and books with authentic sewn bindings (of which there are still some on the market) will positively revel in it. This applies also to journals, of course, and if you find yourself with one of those odd objects from Paperblanks with the visible stitching it’s also applicable.

This is one of the areas in which e-books really can’t compete. You may through a Kindle or Nook come into contact with the notions of a writer, but you lose this potential of ritual and communion with the medium through which those notions come to you. Gently massage a book, and in addition to the tactile rewards you can explain to the onlooker that it helps the book last. Do the same to an ebook reader, and you’re just a weirdo.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred (I think I shall have a Waterman Week as counterpoint to last week’s theme)
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

One Response to “Exercising Literacy”

  1. […] book can be.  Sewn construction, in the modern sense, which means it’s a good idea to exercise the spine before reading but also means it’s not likely to shed pages without being offered abuse, with […]

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