Reader Question: Do you remove book jackets?

January 28, 2010

A rather adorable bookish girl came into the coffee shop sometime last week, hugging to her a black-and-yellow cloth-bound hardback book. She looked like a serious reader; there was something about the haircut and the glasses.

By entering my peripheral vision while waiting for Mitch to make me my daily latte in my Pencil Mug, she caused me to muse on a habit I’ve started noticing with myself lately, that of jettisoning book jackets whilst reading. Her book clearly had been relieved of its jacket, and I find that, almost exclusively these days, I too remove them before reading. Those jackets sit on my bedside table, or, if I’m having a fit of compulsive neatness, I sometimes re-shelve the jackets, sans book, in the slot of my bookcase where the book itself would normally go. Once I am done with the book, back on the jacket goes.

I find that, though decorative, book jackets get in the way. They fall off. Or they get squashed or bent, which makes me all tense. Sometimes I do like to use one flap of a book jacket as an ersatz bookmark, tucking it in to mark my page, but that’s its only functional purpose, and stops working so well if I’m any good distance into the book. Also, it gives me the clenches when the book I’m reading has a book jacket that is starting to migrate, get out of line, stick up above the edges of my book. Am I just weird? How do you deal with book jackets?

(I do know that many of my friends source most of their hardbacks through the library, in which case they’re stuck with an indelible, crinkly-plastic library binding jacket. So, those don’t count, because you cannot remove them).


  1. Lyza Gardner says:

    Irritating. I didn’t realize that PollDaddy wouldn’t publicly display the “Other” values hand-entered. I’ll update later with some of your responses!

  2. Oh man, this is so stealable for mental_floss it’s not even funny. Prepare for some traffic tomorrowish!

    For the record, I can’t STAND book jackets for all the reasons you mentioned. I save them in a pile BEHIND my books on my bookshelf, and then whenever I move to a new house/apartment I find this pile of awful book jackets, all dusty and misshapen, and re-apply them to the books, assuming they’re still around. This is not a good system.

    I must say that my main fear with a book jacket is that I’ll tear it. That just seems messy. And they’re so tear-able.

    • Amy Farrell says:

      Chris! We have the same system! Except, I put the book jackets on top of the bookcase, which is too high for me to notice and dust regularly (but also too high for the book-jacket-chewing-cat), and it’s when I move furniture or deep clean that I re-discover them. Ick.

      • Amy says:

        Ditto from this Amy, I put them on top of the bookcase too. It’s a sort of ritual to put it back on and go rate it on

      • Andy says:

        I appreciate the irony of letting the dustjacket collect dust at the top of your bookshelf!

    • Sara says:

      Always. My mom hates it, but I do. They’re always so hard to keep in place.

  3. Brian Enigma says:

    I always keep books in their jackets. They just feel naked without. I always assumed they protected the book… from… something… but never put much thought into what, just blindly keeping the jackets on. The flaps make good un-loseable (is that even a word?) bookmarks, as long as the book is not so thick that they slip out. They also have the benefit of showing off the book you are reading, which is sort of a half-curse. Sometimes I want to read and not be interrupted, and sometimes I don’t mind the book jacket sparking off a conversation with a stranger. Books without jackets (and on the Kindle, for that matter) are difficult-to-impossible to identify from across the room, preventing such opportunities.

    With all that being said, my book jackets always get little micro-tears and folds along the edges from putting them in my bag, which makes me a little sad, but when it comes down to brass tacks, I’d rather the jacket get worn than the book.

    • Alicevee says:

      I think it hilarious that some readers take the jacket off so it doesn’t get damaged. This is truly a perversion of the purpose of a dust jacket. How hard is it, really, to cope with a dust jacket while reading a book? On a following note, how many readers know how to properly condition a new book before reading? I was taught in school to protect the binding of any book by relaxing it before reading. Open to the middle and gently press the pages apart, then open at the “quarters” to do the same, then the “eighths” and so on. Interestingly enough, this makes it easier to cope with the dust jacket.

  4. Paul Mace says:

    Reading a book transforms it from an anticipatory delight to actual pleasure–or perplexing sense of time wasted. By the same act the jacket is transformed from mere advertising to a semiological part of the book’s identity. Removing it strikes me as degrading. I would never do it.

    • Lyza Gardner says:

      Paul, interesting line of thought. I, too, consider the “art direction” that goes into cover and jacket design vital: I am extraordinarily guilty of judging books by their covers and do so often.

      But when I’m reading actively, I’m not looking at the covers (OK, I realize I’m being difficult here).

      Or maybe it’s sexy to think of it as peeling off the designer label dress from my sexy, sexy book before making sweet, sweet love to it in the buff. And then, when I’m done ravishing it, I gently zip its dress back up and lovingly put it on the shelf.

    • gwalter says:

      Good point. Since I am so visual, the book jacket serves as sort of an icon, color-coding identity. It helps me find it, when I’ve mis-laid it, or better, just seeing the book (in its jacket) later, revives the plot, story, or lessons.

  5. Marcel says:

    While reading a book, I love to put the jacket on the shelf to make it look as if the book were standing on the shelf. It’s a bit stupid, but that’s me.

    • Alicia says:

      I do the exact same thing. I have limited shelf space so it reminds me where the book goes (so I don’t stuff something in it’s spot) and it looks great.

  6. Lyza Gardner says:

    Here are some of the comments entered into the “other” field above:

    • Yes, always. But I put the jacket back on when the book is returned to its shelf
    • My library does, and it drives me crazy. I use pbs and kindle myself.
    • Yes while reading, and then put them back on after I’m done.
    • place the jacket on the shelf so that it looks as if the book were there
    • Yes, and replace them when I am done.
    • I throw them away.
    • Yes, always, though I have to be careful to prevent cats from chewing them
    • Yes, but it goes back on when I’m done with the book.
    • I used to but now I read ebooks exclusively
    • Almost always
  7. Katie says:

    It’s funny, the book cover tends to draw me into the book, but once I start reading it, I toss it to the side. Afterwards I put it back on, but once it gets bent or creased the wrong way, it upsets me.
    Though I guess my books never seem to be in the right condition, since I buy most of them from the Used Book Store.

  8. Laureen says:

    I work in an academic library and I loath book jackets. The first thing we do when receiving new books is throw away the jackets. Unlike public libraries where popular books are constantly handled and checked out, our books may sit untouched on the shelves for decades before a researcher needs them. For that reason, I can see why public libraries use the plastic protectors on their new books, but here the paper jackets and the plastic protectors simply degrade over time, getting chewed up in the shelving. So messy. The only book jacket I’ve ever kept for my home collection is on a signed first edition a friend bought for me.

    • Joe says:

      It really depends on the book. For most general fiction, the jacket is of paramount importance, and especially with today’s hardcover bestsellers, the bindings are rather cheaply made. It really is all about the jacket in those cases. For older editions, sometimes the binding is more decorative and sturdy. In those cases I would display them without the jackets.

      Of course for a true first edition, the jacket is an absolute must, regardless of its condition.

      Also for some academic titles (Norton, Oxford, Cambridge, etc.), the cloth bindings are very distinguished-looking and make for a nice display without their jackets, which are often rather pedestrian anyway.

      In short, jackets are usually a necessary evil, but in some cases can be discarded without much angst.

  9. Brian says:

    I buy plastic covers from a library supply store and put them on before I read them. It keeps the book jacket nice and it also protects the actually binding from getting dirtied from holding it and putting it in my bag. The plastic also feels better to hold than the papery book jacket.

  10. Amy H says:

    Personally, I always remove them. I can’t stand the way they shift around when I’m reading… it drives me bonkers. While I’m reading a book I’ll keep the jacket in my nightstand drawer (since I most often read at night before bed). Then when I’m finished with that readthrough, I replace the jacket for display purposes on my bookshelf.

    As a graphic designer, this is particularly important to me when I find a book jacket with a great design. I don’t want to damage it, so I try to keep it pristine as long as possible. Then again, when I find a book I really love, I’ll also buy two copies of it. One is a paperback “reader” copy for my frequent readthroughs, and the other is usually a pretty, hardback version for my bookshelf.

  11. I always take off dust jackets if I’m taking the book somewhere, but if I’m reading at home I’ll usually keep it on.

    As a former children’s bookseller what always totally perplexed me was dust jackets on hardback picture books. That’s just ridiculous!

  12. Samantha says:

    I use the flaps as a bookmark sometimes, but I mostly bust out a roll of double-stick tape and tape the flaps to the book very precisely so the cover isn’t crooked. That annoys me :)

    • Library Lady says:

      I use the jackets on personal books as book marks as well. At work, I tape the front of the jacket to the book and tell the kids to use the jacket as a bookmark. I toss the jackets when they get ratty. I never dogear books…I always use bookmarks and tell the kids at my school to do the same.

  13. Sarah says:

    I, too, use the jacket flaps as a bookmark but only when I’m reading a borrowed book. When I’m reading a book I bought myself, I keep the jacket on, yet dog-ear the corners to mark my place, go figure.

  14. John Ladd says:

    For me, the habit of taking off book jackets began with the first hardcovers I ever read: Harry Potter. For a young reader like I was, part of the appeal of the jackets was their beautiful art. After being horrified by the possibility, and the reality, of the jackets on books 1 and 2 being ruined, I noticed a classmate reading one with a jacket. As an 11-year-old, I’d never seen this before, and it was the beginning of a lifelong habit for me. I haven’t read a hardcover with a book jacket since! I don’t think it’s silly to try to preserve the jacket. After all, isn’t the visual and tactile sensation of a book the whole reason some of us haven’t yet switched to e-books?

  15. Kent says:

    I have been wondering if there is not a niche business in providing the actual hardback book dust covers (around a faux “book” made of some lightweight compressed recycled material in same dimensions as original book, possibly even paper waste from publishing industry itself) for people who purchase ebooks. I have a suspicion that a lot of ebook readers miss displaying their books on their bookshelf, and may even keep some people from adopting ebooks wholeheartedly.