12 Tips From a Rare Books Expert to Keep Your Books Looking Great

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If you’re like me, you see books the way others see their closest friends and family. You return home and feel welcomed by the shelves, surrounded by the people who understand you. And, just like people, these companions need a little care and attention if you want them to remain with you. Luckily, books are easier than humans—only a few basic rules will keep them happy. Here are a few principles I’ve learned in my work as a rare book dealer at Honey & Wax Booksellers.

1. USE A BOOKMARK—BUT DON’T LEAVE IT IN THERE FOREVER.

I know this seems obvious, but we’ve all been interrupted mid-chapter. Who hasn’t been guilty of splaying a book text down onto a table? A little planning will save your book from dog-earing and any other little injustices you put that binding through.

However, if you leave a bookmark in a book for years—that plan to read all of War and Peace last summer just didn’t pan out—it’s easy for bookmarks themselves to put undue pressure on the binding or leave unwanted traces, like outlines.

2. KEEP NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS AND HOUSEHOLD TAPE AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS.

A man dispensing Scotch tape
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Speaking of unwanted traces, newspaper typically has a very high acid content, which can eat away at neighboring paper over time and leave an ugly burnt-orange shadow in its place. As a bookseller I’ve seen many relevant newspaper clippings tucked into secondhand books, and I always cringe when I look under the clippings to find that tell-tale shadow.

Household adhesives, like Scotch tape or Post-it notes, similarly shouldn’t be used in books. A well-intentioned repair of a ripped page with Scotch tape is one of the worst things you can do to a book; better to leave it ripped. Seriously. In a few years every part of the paper touching that tape will be orange.

3. TAKE OFF THE DUST JACKET WHEN READING. (BUT DON’T YOU DARE THROW IT AWAY.)

The dust jacket is your book’s first defense against the little bumps and nicks it will face in its lifetime. It’s also your book’s beautiful face: There’s no need to subject it to further aging. But keep the jacket in a safe place while reading. If you have any hope of keeping your book looking shiny and new, that jacket is important.

4. AVOID WRITING IN YOUR BOOKS.

Don’t even think about writing your name on the first page; modern ownership inscriptions are considered unsightly flaws in the current collectible market. But if you cannot resist the compulsion, use pencil. Even better: Keep a modern commonplace book, a notebook (digital or print, I won’t judge) where you record quotes and thoughts from the books you’re reading.

5. YOU REALLY ARE ALLOWED TO READ THEM. JUST BE NICE ABOUT IT.

Older woman reading book on couch
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You don’t need to open the book so wide that it breaks the spine. You can feel when you’re putting unnecessary pressure on the book, so just stop. Don’t be a jerk.

6. DON’T PULL THE TOP OF THE BOOK’S SPINE.

It’s so handy, that extra bit of material on the head of the book’s spine. Perfect for curling under the tip of your finger and pulling the book down from the shelf. Stop right there! That little section of the book is one of the weakest parts. The more you fiddle with it, the more likely you are to damage the book. Just reach a bit further back and pull the book down by the edges of the text block, or grab the book by its sides.

7. DUST YOUR BOOKS.

This is a small task that will save your books from all sorts of grime. Start the duster at the spine and sweep away from it, toward the edge of the text block where you open the book. It’s a small hassle to keep your books looking fresh.

8. KEEP BOOKS OUT OF DIRECT SUNLIGHT.

Books arranged on white shelves in a library
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Just like a sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays will change the color of your books. Some colors are notoriously fugitive, like the red band on the dust jacket of the first edition of The Sound and the Fury—but an unfaded red band on that jacket can make a difference of $10,000 in the rare book world.

9. PICK A ROOM TEMPERATURE AND STICK WITH IT.

No attics! No garages! No cars! Books ideally like their surroundings a little bit cool, but the most important aspect of temperature is consistency. Any room that experiences wide variations in temperature is going to wreak havoc on your books.

10. GIVE BOOKS BREATHING ROOM.

A woman pulling a book off a shelf at a library
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If you pack too many books on a shelf, the pressure will squeeze the bindings and hurt the integrity of their structure. Be generous with the space you give them; is it really so bad to have to purchase another bookshelf?

11. STACK BIG BOOKS ON THEIR SIDES.

Vertical stacking is fine for smaller books, but for larger volumes, the weight of all that paper will pull on the hinges over time. Don’t stack too many on top of each other, though: then you’re back to the problem of pressure on the bindings.

12. A WORD ABOUT MOLD …

According to Michael Frazier, Conservator at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s Special Collections, mold is “a tricky and dangerous business.” In other words, any time the word “MOLD” appears in a sentence with “books,” it should be read in ALL CAPS. If you see MOLD on a book, isolate that sucker ASAP. If you can bear it, you may just need to dispose of the book entirely. If not, throw it in the freezer (seriously) and talk to a specialist. In the meantime, address the source of the outbreak (perhaps a leaky pipe?).

Take care of your books, and they’ll take care of you. Who knows? Maybe you have a few first editions that may eventually be worth something if you’ve kept them looking like new. And if you want to read more on the details of storage and handling from the pros, preservationists have created detailed websites on the subject, which you can peruse to your heart's content.

10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

qingwa/iStock via Getty Images
qingwa/iStock via Getty Images

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard." Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

Looking to Move? These Are the 20 Best States to Live In

The skyline of Boston, Massachusetts.
The skyline of Boston, Massachusetts.
Sean Pavone/iStock via Getty Images

To a certain extent, identifying the “best” states to live in is wide open to interpretation. If your happiness is contingent upon the opportunity to shred gnarly waves, for example, chances are low that Kansas would even crack the top 40 on your personal list.

Having said that, some metrics for evaluating the nifty 50 aren’t so subjective—and it’s not only about income, either. To find out which states are “good” to live in, financial news website 24/7 Wall St. devised a rating system based on a few of these universally good qualities: Life expectancy at birth, bachelor’s degree attainment, and poverty rate. After all, a state with a high number of healthy, educated, financially stable people seems like a place you’d want to live, right?

The rating system is based on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, which aims to assess the well-being of a nation’s population through similar statistics: Life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling for adults over 25, and gross national income per capita.

Based on 24/7 Wall St.’s study, Massachusetts took the top spot. Of all residents aged 25 and older, 44.5 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree—the highest rate of any state. Their 10 percent poverty rate is the eighth lowest in the nation, and life expectancy at birth is 80.4 years, which beats the national average (79.1 years) by more than a year.

As far as regional trends go, Massachusetts isn’t alone in its greatness. Almost the entire Northeast ranks in the top 20, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Rhode Island.

The number-two spot went to Colorado—low on surfing opportunities, perhaps, but plenty of gnarly slopes to shred—which actually edged out Massachusetts in life expectancy (80.5 years) and poverty rate (9.6 percent). Its neighbors in Utah and Nebraska made the top 20, too.

24/7 Wall St. also points out the cyclical nature of these metrics. People with advanced degrees earn more money, which they use to afford better healthcare and establish healthier lifestyles, so they live longer.

Then again, a high number of college graduates means nothing if you’re mainly just looking to settle down near the nation’s best roller coasters or curiosity shops (none of which, by the way, are located in Massachusetts). As for those of you looking for that perfect wave? Hawaii claimed the fourth spot.

Scroll on to see if your home state ranks in the top 20, and read more about 24/7 Wall St.’s study here.

  1. Massachusetts

  1. Colorado

  1. New Jersey

  1. Hawaii

  1. Connecticut

  1. Minnesota

  1. Maryland

  1. New Hampshire

  1. Washington

  1. Virginia

  1. Utah

  1. Vermont

  1. New York

  1. California

  1. Nebraska

  1. Illinois

  1. Rhode Island

  1. Oregon

  1. North Dakota

  1. Wisconsin

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