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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The story of a mistreated book...

Book condition can tell you a lot about a person. When you think about it, really, it comes down to respect. Much the same way taking pride in your personal appearance, having good hygiene, and being healthy signifies self-respect, taking good care of your books signifies respect for those books and the careful work that went into creating the finished product.

By no means am I saying that appearance is everything. That's not true of anything, but it does make a statement. What you take care of in your life shows other people what is important to you. Your personal appearance, your dog's appearance, your muscle car.... For literary nerds, it's books. 

I have worked in retail and used book stores and have plenty of book condition horror stories. There's the stuff we've all seen before. Multiple dog-earred pages, torn dust jackets, funky smells, highlighting and writing inside the book, etc. Then there are more serious offenses, like missing pages, covers that are taped back together, and spill stains that discolor and warp the books. But a book that I recently received in a swap topped all of that.

Granted, I'm probably an elitist when it comes to book condition. My "Good" could be your "Very good", and that's understandable. We're different people. We qualify things differently. And when you swap books there is always a risk that the item won't live up to your expectations. When I received this particular book I was dumfounded not only by it's condition but by the way it arrived.

A rather unassuming package arrived in the mailbox, wrapped in brown paper with a printed address label on it. Once I touched it I knew that it wasn't just books wrapped up. It was too sturdy. They had to be in some kind of box. I tore into the paper and this is what I found....

A Cheez-It box? Really?

There are a lot of things I will use to package books --canibalized publisher envelopes, brown paper, old computer part boxes from work --but I've never so much as considered a cracker box.

Yes, I realize that the crackers in all likelihood never touched the actual box but it's the principal. Did this person really not have anything else around? Could they not have just wrapped the book in paper? That would have sufficed. On the upside, the book did not smell like cheese crackers.

Inside was even more confusing. I was expecting a hardback book that I'd been told was in "Like New" condition. I received a book that, while pristine, had no dust jacket. I opened it only to find something more curious. The previous owner had cut the jacket blurb out of the dust jacket and taped it inside the the cover. Just the description of the book. No cover art or anything else. I wish I'd taken a picture of the book itself, but sadly I didn't.

I couldn't believe that anyone would list that book in "Like New" condition. I was so miffed that I sent a message to the sender to say that I was disappointed. The response blew my mind. She told me that I should refrain from requesting anymore of her books because they were all like that.

Translation: She did it on purpose! I was flabergasted. Deliberate mutilation of a book was beyond my comprehension.

So, all you ravenous readers out there, do you have any book condition horror stories? How important is book condition to you? What condition do you keep them in? Do you buy used books or do you avoid it entirely? Likewise, if you don't swap books is it for fear of how they've previously been treated? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Wow, that's scary! Perhaps what she meant with 'Like New' is the paper condition? I'm not sure, but if I saw a 'Like New' status, I would expect it similar with new book.
    I always wrap my books with plastic cover before I even read it, including hardback book, therefore the cover will be fine. Everyone who knows me know how much I treasure books, almost all of them are in good shape, just slightly yellow-ish for old books.
    I rarely buy second hand book unless I get the chance to see the book or if I know the owner is someone who taking care of his/her book. I've bought a copy of Silence of The Lambs years ago, the guy told me it's in good shape, but when it came, the cover was taped with sellotape and dog-eared pages...

  2. I'm a little bit of a book snob so I like to keep my books is pristine condition. When I read my book, I like to keep the spine uncreased, the pages clean and the cover shiny without bends. I never buy secondhand books ( although I like secondhand bookshsop :P)

    Quite frankly, I'm very disappointed in whomever your sender was. Not only do I think how you treat you books reflect on what kind of a person you but isn't the sender even a little embarrassed about the packaging, a bubble wrap packaging bag costs #$3 tops, a crackers box is really kind of embarrassing.

    I would definitely not call that a 'Like New' book, 'Like New' books have dust jackets.

  3. Oh my goodness that is classic!!! A cracker box?? Wow.

    It's funny, I have to admit that when I first started reading (which, sadly wasn't that long ago) I didn't care what books were like. I didn't even think about it. When I bought books, I immediately threw away the jacket because I thought they were irritating and pointless. Now? I can't imagine doing that! I have no jacket for my Twilight books or The Hunger Games, and it's seriously making me crazy.
    I loan out books constantly to my friends. I love being the book pimp that I am. But sometimes they come back bent and I even had a friend drop one in the bathtub!!! GASP!!

  4. Hi! I just came across your blog but it's really cool! Anyway,

    I always keep my books in really good condition, almost new. Except some of my paperbacks because that's kind of impossible. I usually try and get hardcovers because it's a lot easier for me to keep them in good condition. NO DOG EARING! EEP.

    You're 'horror' story is TERRIBLE. I can't imagine that! A cracker box! Seems like some kind of joke.

  5. HKDfjlsdjfl;asjoipsjruewn fa;v

    THIS MAKES MY SKIN CRAWL. I will NOT buy a book if the spine is broken, its jacket is missing, bent, torn, and ESPECIALLY if it smells.

    But this? This is murderous. I can understand if you're going to keep the book for yourself and you like them to be in that condition (cough. weirdo. cough.) But to actually mislead someone to think it was legit "like new" and then send that poor excuse for a book that someone would sell at a garage sale for 2 cents in the clearance bin? Pfft. I'm sorry that someone insulted you by sending you that package.

  6. I'm like you a book condition elitist, or as sometimes my mom refers to me the Book Nazi. Just because I tell her not to lay down my paperback books face down so she cracks the spine,a nd not to read some precious beautiful book with wet hands on the beach! But I'm not hypocrite, I treat my books the same way: I never crack a spine (that's my superpower, I can read a book no matter how wide, I can read it without breaking its spine), I never dog-ear or lay it on the table facedown. I never eat or drink above my books (I'm not saying I don't eat or drink while reading, I just take care not to munch above the book!), and I never read my books in the bathtub where they can get wet! I like to take care of my books, and expect everyone to do the same, that's why I'm not very comfortable lending it to family members or friends if I'm not sure they will take care.

  7. I did read the entire post and it was very informative and I liked it, but I swear all I am thinking now is --


    I am totally having my parents look for this when they next visit Burlington, VT.

    (also - I have used many a box for packaging, but I always make sure to wrap up whatever I am sending on the inside. But I would never send something all mangled if I was stating it was "like new". Down with this person!)

  8. When I buy books from Book Depository, the cover is always a little bit damaged. And it makes me sad.
    I won your "Before I fall + Tote bag giveway". When it arrived, it was in perfect shape. And I was happy. =)
    By the way, I loved the book. A lot. So thank you again!

  9. *shudder* dog ear pages *shudder* I would be pissed, where are my dang cheez-its. THe teaze. ;)

  10. Oh my gosh why would a person do that? How SCARY!!!! O.O I am definitely one of those needs to be in perfect condition kinds of book people. Haha. And dust jackets are a MUST. :)