Book Repair ~Part I

I don’t know about anyone else, but, for me, buying books online has always been a trial. You think you’re buying something in “very good” condition, only to find out that you and whoever labeled that book have two very different ideas of very good. Do you return? Or do you live with it?

Since returning books can be a hassle, I thought I’d share some of my book-repair tips. It doesn’t solve everything. If the cover’s super torn up, a bunch of pages are missing, or there’s excessive water damage, there isn’t much to be done but contact the store and return. However, you can fix a lot.

A torn page can be fixed with stuff around the house. If you have wax paper, a toothpick, and some super glue, you’re all set. Usually, I’ve found that this doesn’t work as well with long tears (more than 2 inches). If it’s an uneven tear, where layers of the page tore, leaving an overlap, that’s actually the best.

  1. Place the torn page between two pieces of wax paper
  2. Put a little glue on the toothpick.
  3. Smear it on the overlapping piece (or, if it’s a cleaner tear, carefully line both sides of the tear with a thin stroke of glue).
  4. Close the book and set something heavy on it.
  5. Leave it for about a day to make sure its set.

If you’ve got a book with a gunky cover (from dirt, coffee, sticker residue, etc.), there are a couple ways to clean it. Taking a lightly dampened cloth and rubbing the cover, even a paperback, can usually get most stains off. For anything sticky, “Goo Gone” is a great answer. I don’t know if there are other brands out there that do the same thing, but that stuff will take the sticky right off a book. The only drawback is that you have to be careful using it on certain types of soft-covers. If you rub your thumb across the cover and it feels glossed (mostly smooth, but maybe your finger skids a little along the surface), then you shouldn’t have a problem. The best rule of thumb is simply to start with a tiny bit of the stuff of a paper towel or a napkin, make sure it doesn’t cause discoloration, and then, if you’re in the clear, go all in. My sister and I have been doing this for years (and we’re still on our first bottle of “Goo Gone,” too—that’s how far this stuff goes). Neither of us has ever wrecked a book with it. As long as you’re paying attention, you can stop before any damage is done.

Progression from sticker to removal. Not our best work of art. You can see that a little of the paper cover was damaged on the right-hand side of the final product (rightmost image). Much better (in my opinion) than having a sticker and its goo, but this is a good example of one of the hazards of book repair.

An important note regarding the pictures above: if you’re having trouble getting a sticker off a book, stop peeling. Use a dampened paper towel to rub gently at the sticker. Once my sister did that with this copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (not a very uplifting book, by the way), she was able to remove the stickers with no further damage. If, however, a book can’t handle a little water, then it probably won’t be able to take “Goo Gone” either. There are some stickers that just won’t budge, particularly on the more fragile covers (i.e. really old or super papery).

I’ve got a couple bigger book fixes, one particularly useful for ex-library books, but I’ll save those for next time. So check back later this month for a couple more helpful hints.

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