I run a little free library, and while it is always inspiring and fun to be a part of getting books exchanged for free among neighbors and friends, I see a lot of books in bad repair. Think missing covers, torn pages, and everything bent in every which way. I’ve seen water damage, I’ve seen dirt, and I’ve seen books that have lost pages. While most of these books have a salvageable story to share still, it is pretty sad when a book has lost its use. Sometimes someone has simply read the book a hundred times. Other times, it’s because the book has been neglected, dog-eared, and exposed to the elements. If we love a book, we really have to strive to protect our books from harm.
If you want the paperbacks in your collection to stand the test of time, consider following these guidelines for keeping them safe and beautiful.
Set The Book Aside For Meal Time
Many of us love to read at meal times, but it is just all too easy to get food on books, possibly food that cannot be removed. The easiest solution is to not read at meal times. If that is too much to bear, you can also choose to read with a book stand and a hand towel or paper towel handy before page turning.
Pay Attention to Humidity
Our homes vary in their level of air moisture; this is even more true for my Little Free Library! If I’m not careful, moisture creeps in and turns the pages of paperbacks wavy. To combat this, I try to store my books in the room of the house with the least extreme temperature variations and the lowest humidity. If you know that your house is prone to dampness after a lot of rain, for example, consider a clear-covered door for your bookcase to maintain a separate space from the rest of the room.
Keep Plastic Bags Handy for Books During Travel
If you are taking your book with you to the park or across the globe, a plastic bag will do wonders for it. You can reuse the same bag and keep it stored in your messenger bag or suitcase. Not only will it keep out the aforementioned moisture, it prevent accidents like dropping it in a puddle or getting chocolate from your Parisian pain au chocolat all over it. In general, books take more of a beating when they are on your trip, and a bag gives a little protection.
Carry Sticky Flags and Bookmarks If You are Prone to Dog-Earing
Most of us will resort to the dreaded dog-earing of pages if we cannot find something to be a bookmark. A good way to resolve this is to find ways to keep bookmarks handy; store a few in any cup of pens and pencils, for instance. Others really like to annotate books, and the best way to do this is with sticky flags, which are small sticky notes made specifically to come off of delicate book pages. You can still leave notes to the next reader of your beloved book, but they come off too.
Invest in a Caddy if You are a Bath or Pool-Float Reader
So your idea of a luxurious afternoon is relaxing on your favorite pool float with a book, or settling into a bubble bath and reading. How can you protect your books from taking unceremonious dunks in the water? Caddies are perfect for that. Pretty bamboo caddies exist for bathtubs, which can hold a cup of cocoa or a glass of wine next to your book while you soak and rest. Floating pool caddies can be a nice option if you want somewhere to put your book when adjusting your pool float or reapplying sunblock.
Keep an Eye On Those Spines
Paperback spines can crack just like other book spines, and the result is a less beautiful looking book. When reading your paperback books for the first time, try never to leave them face-down, splayed open to save a page. We know how bookmarks work; it’s worth the time to find one. If you do notice a crack in the book’s spine, a temporary solution for low-value books (mass market paperbacks still in print) is carefully applied clear packing tape, smoothed carefully over the broken spine. This is mostly to reinforce; it won’t stop pages falling out long-term. For a real treasure of a book, professional bookbinders can help you with your higher value books using archival-quality reinforcement.
With these strategies to protect your books, your books will last longer and look better for years to come. Maybe you accept that some of your favorites are going to get worn out, but it’s always an option to keep one pristine copy and another that you can reread endlessly and loan out.