How do you pick up a book?
Choosing a book is a lot like choosing a dance partner. Every book has
something to offer and stories of its own to tell. Though every book is dif-
ferent between the covers, varying in size, shape and content, each is very
much alike. Like human beings, books, as a species, have two basic sexes:
paperback and hardcover.
The anatomy of a paperback, or "softcover" as it is known in the United
Kingdom, is rather simple. Its spine is generally flush with the textblock
at top and bottom. Its cover, a heavy paper stock, is most often
"tightbacked" or glued to the spine. (See figure 1.)
The anatomy of a hardcover is more involved. Its spine generally extends
beyond the textblock at top and bottom. Its cover, a case made of cardboard
and cloth, is wrapped like a shawl around the spine protecting the book's
headbands. Headbands, or "endbands" in the UK, are traditionally cloth
embroidery which strengthens the binding and are worn by the book at the
top and bottom of the spine much as you wear hair on your head and shoes
on your feet. Many contemporary hardcovers, however, are without head-
bands. This leaves the "headcap", the upper-most section of the spine cov-
ering, to protect the binding. (See figure 2.)
Now, depending on your preference, here's how to pick up a book.
Most people pick up a shelved book by placing a finger on the top inside
corner of the book, latching onto its headband or headcap and pulling. Not
since the last caveman pulled a woman home by her hair has a man used
such a method to pick up a woman! Why does this chauvinistic expression
of choice continue in libraries? (The word "chauvinist," by the way, is re-
lated to the French word for "bald"!) A paperback picked up in this man-
ner is eventually stripped of its paper backing. A hardcover will lose its
headband or headcap, if not both.
A better means of picking up a shelved book, for those of us who insist
upon continued use of one finger, is to use all rather than just the tip of the
finger. It's simple. Form an "L" with your pointer-finger and thumb. Place
the finger fully atop the book. Your knuckle should be resting over the
headband or headcap. Place your thumb on the book's spine. Then, with
the leverage of the L, tip the book back until you can pick it up with your
other hand. Two problems with this method are: (1) you place stress on the
bottom edge of the spine and (2) you find yourself slipping back into old
An even better method uses the whole hand. Form a "C" with your hand
and turn it sideways, using it to push the books to the side of the preferred
book back an inch or two. After you've done this, use your hand like a
clamp around the sides of the book to lift it out. Be sure you've pushed the
adjacent books back so your fingers touch its side boards or covers. Other-
wise, you may accidentally pull at the spine covering. Never pull a book by
latching onto its joints or grooves.
Respect for a book begins with picking it up. Your dance partner will not
take having his or her feet stepped on. Unfortunately, a book will not say a
word about it. So, show some extra care.
Erich Kesse and Michelle Bailey
1. Section of a Paperback.
2. Section of a Hardcover.