Occasionally, when people buy rare or collectible books from us, they'll ask: Does this book need any special care?
The fact that they ask is an indication that the book is going to a good home. Too often we see books that have been treated poorly; stored in damp cardboard boxes in a garage or shed, bent or warped, and coated with filth.
Am I exaggerating? Not a bit. The picture to the left shows the mold and water damage suffered by a book that was improperly stored for several years. See the wavy shadow cast by the pages? They have been warped by water. This book is no longer a book ? it is garbage. (Though I say "garbage," here at Powell's we recycle books and they are pulped and made into paper once again. I think of it as a form of reincarnation.)
This book doesn't smell so pleasant, either. (I'll share a tip about curing a book of a bad smell in a future posting.)
Even if you store your books in the house, which is of course warm and dry, don't just pile them in a bin and think that your job as caretaker is done. In the photo below, these improperly stacked books are being bent and stressed in harmful ways. Books are not contortionists.
To better understand how you should store or ship your books, take a look at the lovely bit of artwork we've titled "A Nicely Packed Box."
What do books want? you wonder. They want to be treated with respect. That means kept in warm, dry places out of direct sunlight. They want to be on your shelves, sitting up straight, and dusted occasionally. They want you to use bookmarks, or at least small bits of paper torn from TV Guide or People magazine to mark your place. They want to be kept away from coffee spills.
As for the lovely leather bound books in your collection ? they want to be treated with neat's-foot oil or saddle conditioner. Here's an example:
Yes, that's the same book. It just needed some love.
Now, get out to the garage or down to the basement, and repack those boxes. Whisk your books away from the damp. Save them from puddles of encroaching coffee. Take a half hour from your busy life and rub leather restorer on your leather bindings. Your books will thank you.