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5 and 1/2 Bookish Phenomena I Just Don’t Get

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Take away my “true reader” card. After seeing virtually every book-related meme or comic or variation of a post on “you might be a book nerd if” post, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person who absolutely, positively loathes doesn’t like certain things that other bookish folk do.

It’s time to rip off the bandaid and lay out the things that I just don’t get about the book life. And because this can be our little secret confessional space, feel free to use the comments to air your own confessions about things about the reading life that you can’t stand or simply do not understand. One rule: be respectful.



1. French Flaps and Deckle Edges



This is my beautiful copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and it commits two sins in design. First, it’s got a deckle edge — that’s the part where the pages are all cut unevenly on the side. Second, it has French flaps — that’s the part where there are little flaps on the inside of both front and back covers.

Creating this package is meant to enhance the beauty and fancy factor of a book, but I hate it, and I hate it for a very particular reason: paper cuts.

I have very small hands. Holding a book with pages like this and with French flaps means having an uneven resting place for a book in my hand as I read one-handed. Trying to flip pages means navigating the holding hand around each and every time I am ready to move on. If I don’t do it quick enough or am not paying attention to the act of switching pages, I actively cut into my poor palms or my thumb. Bloody pages does not a good look make.

There’s a reason that this aesthetic adds value to a book, but I’ve never bothered to find out why because to me, the choppy pages look cheaply made.

Also, paper cuts.




2. Sniffing Books

I think sniffing books is pretty gross. Perhaps it has to do with the fact I’ve worked in public libraries and know the conditions that those books come back in. I’ve cleaned about every bodily fluid from pages and spines, and I’ve had the delight of discovering what water logged books smell like, as well as books that have been in the hands of heavy smokers.

The other reason is from my time in archive land. Red rot/leather rot is a phenomenon where the chemicals in a leather-bound book begin to deteriorate; this breakdown is gross on the physical level, since book covers and spines will literally fall apart and crumble in your hands and it has a smell like, well, rotting leather. If those books have spent any time in a dank basement or in a dusty room with little air flow, as often they do, the grossness amplifies.

While the average reader doesn’t have cases and cases of leather-bound books at home, it’s the subject of so many romantic idealizations of books and I can’t help but enjoy telling stories about the hundreds of books I’ve had fall apart in my hands, leave marks on my clothes, and worse, leave rotting, putrid smells all over me.

It’s not sexy.



3. New Book Smell

Maybe I’m just not a romantic at all.

“New book smell” makes me a little sneezy and water-y eyed, actually, since it’s so…factory. Sometimes you get eau de pile of books in a cardboard box, but usually, it’s not a remarkable scent except for the fact it smells like print factory.

Okay. I’ll say it: I’m not romantic at all.




4. Believing The Physical Book Is a Sacred Object

I believe in using books however you want to use them, so long as they belong to you. Want to make a book wreath? Get it. Want to make book art? Party on.

Getting attached to the way a thing is presented, rather than what it contains, is why there are countless boring arguments including: print vs ebook superiority, genre snobbery, and the belief that there is only ever one right way or one right thing to read. There’s no need to make everything either/or and fetishizing the book as a sacred thing does this, whether it’s intentional or not.

Break down them boundaries, baby.


4.5 Pristine Pages

Dog ear your pages if you want! Write in those pages! Bend them! Tear them! If you’re going to insist on the physical package, make it work.


5. Not Cracking Spines

My first job in a library was in high school. The first role I had there was shelving books and stamping due dates — this was the era before dates came on a receipt. The second role, though, was one I loved so very much and felt privileged to have: I worked in technical services, preparing books to get on the shelf.

Job duties included putting call numbers on the book, putting bar codes on the book, laminating book jackets, and my absolute favorite thing: cracking book spines. There was a method, too. First you cracked the spine at about a third of the way through the book, then in the middle, then again about two-thirds of the way through the book. The purpose was to get that spine working and ensure its integrity.

There’s something so satisfying about cracking a book spine. It’s like bubble wrap. I cannot imagine keeping my book spines pristine; I want them on the shelf looking like they’ve been loved because if they’ve earned their space on my shelf, they have been loved.


All right, book friends. Lay it on me: what don’t you get?