The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Handling and Mishandling of Books Part 3

In taking a book from the shelf it should not be plucked forth by hooking the forefinger into the headband, for it is by the repetition of this action that the headband gets broken and the upper part of the back is torn so that it hangs loose and, presently falling off, is lost. In earlier days when books stood with the foredge outwards they fared no better; clasps and silk ties offered tempting tags wherewith to draw the volumes from their places, and it thus came about that many books were bereft of these really rather tiresome appendages. A better way is to place the forefinger firmly on the top edges of the book about an inch from the back and tilt the volume forward so that it can be grasped between the thumb and fingers. Or, the volumes standing on each side of the book may be tilted in with the thumb and finger just sufficiently to allow the book to be seized and drawn out without touching the top.

Though the extended use of machinery has introduced a kind of ruthless element into modern book-construction, yet a considerable number of books are, happily, still issued uncut; and, surely, there are few more pleasurable times for the reading book-lover than the half-hour spent with the paperknife in cutting up and honey-sipping a new book. Sometimes, however, that half-hour may prove a little trying to anyone who likes to see neatly cut edges, for it is nearly impossible to cut some of the modern spongy paper without leaving the edges in rags and jags. For cutting a book an ivory knife with a smooth edge is the right thing to use, and, it seems necessary to state, neither a finger nor a hairpin is a suitable substitute. In the act of cutting, the knife should be drawn down rather than pushed forward or the edges may cut up roughly; and if the edge of the knife is drawn across the hair two or three times the slight lubrication thus applied will cause it to do its work more smoothly. In cutting the top edges special care should be taken to cut quite up to the back; a quarter or half inch left uncut and then torn when the book is opened is but too commonly seen. Some American books of recent date are a snare to the unwary, for, though cut smooth on the top, some of the bottom edges are left to be cut by the reader, and unless the volume be opened cautiously a leaf may be torn in half.