03 December 2010

Down With Dust Jackets!

Right now, the book that I'm reading to the girl each night is called Carbonel, and it's about a magic cat and a witch and a broom that can fly and a girl and her friend. It's pretty terrific and you should run out and get it for your kid (or yourself), but that's almost besides the point.

One of the reasons I like it so much has nothing to do with the words, and everything to do with the binding - that is, the physical object. It's hardcover, quarter-bound with red cotton on the spine and full color panels, and it came with no dust jacket. No dust jacket!

I don't know about you, but I hate dust jackets on kids' books. Most kids aren't dexterous enough to read books with their dust jackets on, so you have to take them off and store them, which is just a pain in the ass.  And then when you pass the book along to your nieces or nephews or neighbors, you have to remember to find the dust jacket lest you end up owning a dust jacket without its book.  Of course, I guess you could toss them, but I am categorically unable to do so, and so I have a couple of boxes of dust jackets kicking around in an upstairs closet.

And what's the point of a dust jacket in this modern age anyway? To make the book more attractive? It's wholly possible to print lovely covers, just like on Carbonel. To provide a blurb on the inside front jacket flap? No kid is going to read that. So there's space for an author bio and photo on the inside back flap? They usually get printed in the book anyway, in case the dust jacket disappears.

What do you think? Thumbs up or down for dust jackets on books for kids? I say we start a revolution.

24 comments:

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I'm with you. And I love those New York Review of Books kids books. We have a bunch of them. AJ and I are doing our annual Christmas read of Masefield's Box of Delights right now, in fact. But the Jenny books were our intro to the series. They were favorites of mine when I was small and I was thrilled that someone had brought them back, especially in such a nice edition.

FreshHell said...

Dust jackets irk me too. They seem superfluous and we always remove them. My husband squirrels them away as if they'll ever be married to the book again (they won't) and I sometimes find a stash in one of my cleaning frenzies and toss them. I feel bad about doing it but I do it. Because they're pointless and end up gathering the very dust they were meant to repell. I guess.

Lynn said...

Thumbs down on dust jackets. The only reason I keep them is because the binding underneath is so bad. I've been known to use a bit of packing tape around the cover and the flap to keep them in place (kind of like libraries do), but it's a pain, and most of the time I just throw them in a box in the attic. Meh.

Rabecca Larson said...

You know it! I couldn't bear to throw them away, but I had to get over it. We're in the process of moving...yesterday, I threw away the dust jacket to the Webster's Unabridged Dictionary! Does that make the hair on your neck stand up or what?? I did it, baby! Because after about an hour in my house, the dust jacket is always a tattered mess. I finally reasoned that it's better to get rid of them immediately than to be tormented by that stack of unused dust jackets for years.

Awesome Mom said...

I am anti dust jacket for adult books too. I find it very annoying to have to deal with it while reading so I always end up taking them off and loosing them any way.

This Here Bliss said...

I HATE dustjackets. I have a whole box of them that I'm saving for when I hand the books on. I should just do the potential recipients a favor and burn them now. Thanks for the book recommendation, and thanks (belatedly) for the tip on finding American Girl doll clothes on Etsy. I ordered some today.

liz said...

Have you ever seen the price you can get for a first edition of The Wizard of Oz with a dust jacket? In ANY condition? Yeah.

Keep 'em if you're interested in them as an investment. Otherwise, throw 'em away.

de said...

Whoops, too late for us. I tossed the dust jacket collection 3 years ago during our move.

My husband is the one that removed them. I am the fussy sort who leaves them on.

Nevertheless, this is a thumbs down.

Cathy said...

No, don't throw them away!

There's a great die from Ellison that lets you turn them into jigsaw puzzles. If your little book worm liked a book, chances are she'll remember the cover, and playing fast and loose with a cover-as-puzzle is fun (and little bit subversive).

Send the dust jackets to me and I'll do the die-cutting for you. I can also see turning them into covers for sewn notebooks. Again, send 'em my way!

Florinda said...

I used to toss all dust jackets, regardless of the book - they just got in the way. I do keep them on my own books now, though - the flaps make good bookmarks. But truthfully, I usually buy paperbacks, so it's rarely an issue.

For kids' books, though? They're just annoying, and they fall off and get torn much too easily. More trees dying for no good reason...

Emily said...

Yes! A revolution. I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore.

Becky said...

My kids hate them, in an OCD kind of way. I think they get that from me. C'mon, booksellers. Just make pretty, pretty books.

the queen said...

I hate dust jackets, so I strip them. However, the in-laws must like them, because they must have never looked under one. Here is how I know: I have a book by Joseph Conrad, written in 1897 regresttably named "The N****** of the Narcissus." I was wondering aloud if this was a book I should not display in my library. My in-laws said I should just "take off the dust jacket." It's moot, there is no dust jacket, but still I get the idea the in-laws think all naked books look like the white album.

Kate Larkindale said...

Totally with you on this one. The top of my bookcase (out of kiddie finger reach) has become a graveyard for abandoned dust jackets. I'm sure by the time my kids are old enough to handle them, they'll have rotted into nothing under a thick coating of dust and grime.

Such a waste of resources!

slouchy said...

thumbs down, for kids. and thumbs neutral, for adults.

InTheFastLane said...

they get ripped if you leave em on anyway, or they fall off...I'm in the with the revolution.

Heide said...

Kept 'em for a while, thought I might frame some favorites, but threw them out in a move. Now that The Offspring is reading chapter books, they stay on; that way, a bookmark is always right there.

painted maypole said...

i threw a whole bunch of dust jackets away when I moved. A few of them I did stick in a box. somewhere.

down with dust jackets!

(off to look up that book at the library...)

bipolarlawyercook said...

I have a bunch of different and contradictory thoughts on this, mostly in the kids v. adults realm and the technology v. tradition train of thought, not to mention just being pragmatic.

As a bookseller, I take a lot of books back just because people order online and the dust jacket's damaged, so clearly some people care.

As a book design geek, I like the ideas of inner and outer books, but-- with the advent of new technologies in printing and all, it's so feasible to print the cover art right into the cover, and as you say, it's a practical, dexterity thing, plus materials costs and less paper, etc.-- over time, the newer technology will only cost less as more people use it.

And I think it only makes sense to do away with the jackets on most books, not just kids' (especially cookbooks, UGH, there the slippage is a real pain in the butt), even as I, as a reader, do like my dust jackets on my fiction and poems, do enjoy the different textures and feels, do use the inner flaps as bookmarks, all of that wonky stuff.

I like how the jackets age and fade, curl and turn, show that I've had the book for a while and that the book is a permanent thing. And I consider the jacket a dress for the book, or a robe or favorite sweater-- something it (and the author) chose to wear. The book's not really naked without it, but to me it seems ... churlish? to take it right off.

Then again, I'm one of those people who wears turtlenecks and pashminas and scarves as soon as the weather drops below 60. : )

leanne said...

Glad I'm not the only one who takes them off and keeps them. I, too, cannot throw them out. Seems absolutely wrong to do so. But I do find dust jackets endlessly annoying on books for kids.

mayberry said...

Wow, you touched a nerve! For years I took the kids' ones off and stuffed them in a cupboard. Now my girl has decided that she is a collector of dust jackets. She even dragged a huge shopping bag of them to school for show & tell.

Sue Fisher said...

I did a paper in my library school History of the Book class on dust jackets once. The original intention behind the dust jacket was that they were meant to protect the book from damage. Given the price of books and the privilege associated with owning them back in the late 19th and early 20th Century, this made a lot of sense. A simple piece of paper could not only protect your book, it could also, cheaply, add visual flare and marketing potential to a book. Before long, publishers started advertising on the backs of books and at some point the "blurb" was invented.

About mid-century people began to show interest in the dust jacket as an artifact itself. It's an essential and ephemeral part of publishing history. For many early books, the dust jacket contains information (e.g. blurbs by significant historical figures, advertisements for books that have very few extant copies, etc) that cannot be found anywhere else. That, combined with their design legacy, has placed enormous value on the dust jacket as an historical artifact, particularly if it still accompanies the book it was published with. Just think how thrilled you'd be to own a Virginia Woolf novel with its original dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell and printed on the Hogarth Press. (I just gave myself shivers.)

In contemporary times, so much of the information from the dust jacket has either migrated inside the book or has been copied onto the back cover. Books, even first editions, are comparatively cheap now and printing techniques do allow for more variation when it comes to having illustrated book covers and spines. The dust jacket remains a significant historical object, though, and I would be reluctant to see it go.

In my library, we cover the jackets in mylar and then attach them to the book with acid-free tape. In this capacity, they really do fulfill their original promise. Just think how many books are saved from greasy finger-prints in a children's library because they have their dust jackets. Just think how many spines stay intact no matter how many times the book is pulled from the shelf. And what with libraries still being a significant purchaser of books, don't expect the dust jackets, particularly on picture books, to disappear any time soon.

If I were you, I would toss the dust jackets if they bother you. You might want to keep any that have a particular visual interest, have been designed by a significant illustrator, or come with the 1st edition of an award-winning title--that is, if you simultaneously feel the pull of posterity along with the desire to simplify and declutter.

The Library Lady said...

Sue has said most of what I'd say about dust jackets--though said it in a far more erudite manner :D

I can tell you that we used to get a lot of books from a company called "Bound to Stay Bound" that permabound books with their dust jacket art imprinted onto the covers.When the jacket, mylar cover and all, was wrecked--and that happens a lot--we could just toss the jacket and still have the cover art.

The NY Review books are lovely, but most kids books don't have the cover art on the boards. The dust jacket provides beautiful art and attracts the eye, which is essential in selling books or displaying them in a library. Your kids and mine wouldn't grab plain cloth bound books without art on the covers!

So if the companies were to start imprinting cover art, I'd say fine. But considering that book bindings have cheapened over the last few decades, I doubt if that would happen.

Toss the covers for your home library but know that if you do it will be harder to give them away or sell them. Yet another good reason for borrowing your books from the library and only buying those you want to keep forever!

Speaking of keeping books forever (sigh) at my house the Man covers his book jackets in mylar...

Angela said...

I have a whole drawer full of dust jackets, carefully folded into each other so they don't get bent or out of shape. I NEVER read books with them on and only put them back on when I'm done with a book and return it to the shelf (can you tell I have a huge pile of unread books?). The kid's dust jackets remain in the drawer forever.

I find that the kid's hardcover books almost always have the exact same artwork printed on the cover, so it is a unnecessary accessory. But I do enjoy going through the drawer once in a while to view the dust jackets. Sometimes we give away the books and forget to give the dust jacket with it. One that comes to mind is Window Music (http://www.amazon.com/Window-Music-Anastasia-Suen/dp/0670872873) I almost wish I still had the book when I see the dust jacket. So I still like them for nostalgia's sake.

Enjoyed your post as well as all the comments. I had no idea that people would cover their dust jackets in mylar for home and not just the library!