Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Gentleman's Library

Step one in the recovery of our civilization: zero tolerance for dust jackets.

— David Warren


The cancerous proliferation of the dreaded dust wrapper in modern society, to say nothing about the uncontrolled accumulation of cheap "paperbacks", has done much to degrade the gentleman's natural environment, writes David Warren.

I WISH TO THUNDER TODAY against an abuse that is rampant in our culture. In a few short decades it has grown from being the vice of a small minority of the perverse until it has spread to every section of society. Moreover both in itself and through commercial pandering to it a disgusting habit has led to many other evils — made them possible and contributed to a fiendish inventiveness in the production of still more.

The rot goes deeper -- j'accuse! -- and the very institutions of our state have conspired to spread this vice among our innocent children. Our very libraries once citadels of chaste instruction have joined in the parade of this horrific disorder perfidiously souring the generations to come.

Make no mistake the slide in our standards is enforced and is accelerated by a hidden network of damnable vested interests. It would take the utmost exertions of selfless individual labour and perhaps parliamentary legislation to break their grip. Indeed while I may decently hesitate to recommend the employment of the strong arm of the law for the invasion of domestic privacy it is hard to think what else could be efficacious in suppressing this affront to all we once held dear.

This is a vile business. The things are everywhere and I passionately hate them. I do not allow them into my own quarters and I remonstrate with others who try to bring them in -- verily right into the house in which I live. And yet I am taunted daily by the sight of them insolently littering the bookshelves of my companions and my neighbours.

For I refer to none other than the unspeakable habit of keeping "dust jackets". Nay not merely keeping them but keeping them wrapped around the books with which they were distributed and thus visible wherever and whenever the books themselves are on display.

So far as I am able to make out there were no dust jackets at all before about the middle of the 19th century. I speculate that the practice began with the use of blank tissue or wrapping paper to protect the covers of books especially the delicately-tooled often gold-leafed lettering on the (usually leather) spines. The bookbinder put this on and then the bookseller took it off for the wrap-around necessarily obscured such essential information as the book's title and author.

Then some innovative person thought of printing such information on the outside of the wrapper. This led inevitably to its retention by the bookseller. This ancestral dust jacket could continue protecting the book from scratching airborne grime and the effects of casual handling in the bookshop. The jackets also prevented the sun from bleaching the rich colours in the cover if the book were shown in the shop window.

It was found that more information about the book could be put more boldly on the jacket's spine face reducing the need of the casual browser to handle it. Then discreet advertising blurbs began to appear on the jackets' front covers only encouraging them again. Like material then spread to the front flap to the back cover to the back flap and catalogue information was finally put on the reverse side of the wrapper. All fair enough no reasonable man will object to a gentle sales pitch.

But then some mute inglorious Milton got the idea of putting a picture on the wrapper. At first decorative woodcuts and the like but soon more elaborate and attention-grabbing illustrations. Colours came into play then photography and rotogravure and other printing methods to make the jackets "sing" against the competition -- and by tiny increments they grew more and more objectionably shiny. Coatings were applied to make the colours more vivid. And in the space of little more than a century the average dust wrapper had become unmistakably loud and lewd.

I leave aside the development of these vicious modern "paperbacks" -- a direct consequence of the evolution of dust jackets with their screaming soft covers crudely glued around their cheap pulp innards. As newspapers and magazines paperbacks are meant to be read and discarded -- and thus handled without respect. To allow them to accumulate is to allow one's environment to be degraded.

But a book is a book is a book -- meant to be passed down the generations while speaking to each successive reader. No expense should be spared in preparing it for its journey through time. With age and careful use it should develop a fine patina; or in the case of disintegration the binding renewed or replaced.

Dust jackets are not merely an awkward impediment to reading (requiring real butchery when the public libraries plasticize them and glue them into place). What has happened in our time -- and owing directly to this wicked practice of keeping the dust wrappers -- can be seen if only the jacket is removed.

For the book within it is now often as not an hideous abortion. It is made no better than a paperback only larger. Stiff nasty grease-absorbing pasteboards encase unstitched puffy acidic sheets bearing garishly oversized typography. And that is only the outward manifestation of something deeper. For when you condescend to read the "book" almost invariably you discover it was mere vacuous stuffing to fill the lurid come-on wrapped around it. The jacket has been used to cover a multitude of sins.

Step one in the recovery of our civilization: zero tolerance for dust jackets.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Who doesn't treasure the appearance of a book's spine?

Anonymous said...

If you're Old World, a fine patina and a butler's ladder is all you need. That, and 20 foot ceilings.


Anonymous said...

I hope this doesn't apply to slipcovers, does it? I'm very fond of slipcovers. No one may take my slipcovers. Back away from the slipcovers, very very slowly...


David Byers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Byers said...

Boy does David Warren have problems if he can worry about this sort of stuff.

What's the "Gentleman's Library" slliness? Yes can't have paperbacks, can't have everyday folks reading books now, can we.

Beaverbrook said...

Slipcovers are okay. I use a slipcover myself, convenient because it has a built-in light that can be pulled out and angled over the pages. It allows my wife to sleep, since I don't need a big unnecessary tablelamp to read at night.

Lord Best said...

I have to agree with Mr Byers on this one, it is rather pointless to worry about such things at this time. If it really bothers you, take up the arcane craft of bookbinding and rebind all your books in fine gilt impressed leather.
Having said that, I do agree entirely that dustcovers are ugly, garish things and when Western civilisation is restored to its former glory I will happily pay to have all my modern books rebound.

Anonymous said...

Paperbacks are travellers and meant to be read and discarded like magazines, not left to clutter a fine man's library

Matt said...

Amen (3x)

Nomennovum said...

I have to agree with Warren, but simply removing the dust wrapper from most books does depressingly little to improve the situation. Today's books, naked of their jackets, are cheap and ugly.