It's Fall. Get a Jacket.

Let’s talk dustjackets.

A dustjacket (or dust jacket or simply jacket) is that piece of paper wrapped around the outside of a book, usually hardcovers though the paperback publishers experimented with it once in a while. Once upon a time, it was added to books simply to keep the dust and sunlight off the cover while the book sat in the store. The buyer took the book home and generally threw the jacket away. Eventually, publishers realized they could put words and pictures on the jacket and make the whole package more attractive (as in attracting the eye of a buyer to this book rather than the one on the next shelf). People still went home and threw them away, but one or two people who were weird, or lazy, or just liked the picture on the cover kept the jackets.

The value of a rare book is multiplied remarkably if you have a copy that belonged to one of these weirdos. In some cases a rare book without its jacket is valued at ten percent what the very same book fetches with that bit of paper still wrapped around it. In some cases, the point which proves you have a first printing and not the second is printed on that jacket. This has led to forged jackets, facsimile jackets, and “married” books (where you take a first printing in good shape and put a nice jacket from some lesser copy on it.) There’s a reference book to book collecting which suggests you take the jacket off the book you’re thinking of buying and looking on the back of it, to check for tape or mold. There are all kinds of twists and turns in the lore of dustjackets.

But the thing about jackets that affects me most at this Book Fair is how often they’re upside-down. This is especially true of novels, for some reason. I’ll price a book on the upper righthand corner of the first white page, glance at the text, and realize I have actually written the price upside-down on the lower left corner of the LAST page.

Are there that many people out there who take the jacket off while they read the book and then put it back any old how? Or is this a method they teach in school these days, turning the jacket upside-down so you remember you’ve already read this one? Or is it a city-wide plot to turn the jackets before you donate the book, just to see if the Book Fair manager can be driven crazier than he already is?

Just keep in mind that I can use dustjackets to take revenge. If you don’t behave, I’ll start releasing the names of the donors who send me books with the endflap tucked in as a bookmark, proving that you didn’t get past page 22 of that novel you read for your book group.

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