This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 6, 1991

November 6, 1991 - How to Open a Book

This week's topic is deceptively simple: How to Open A Book, particularly a new book.

First, wash your hands. When you do it right, opening a book is both a blatantly sensual and profoundly intellectual experience. It demands the utmost cleanliness and attention.

Second, hold the book in both hands and examine the front cover. Some books have paper jackets, some do not. But look at the cover. Think about it. The cover is a book's face.

Third, tilt the spine (the binding, or "backbone" of the book) upward. Hold the covers of the book in one hand, one thumb on one side, the remaining fingers on the other. Now read what appears on the spine. Think about that, too. The spine is the book's soul. (The spine is also a book's profile: On a library shelf, the spine defines the book.)

Fourth, run the palm of your other hand along the length of the spine, top to bottom, firmly but gently. You might let your thumb and forefinger linger in the gutters on either side of the spine. A well-bound book should feel smooth, even, and tight.

Fifth, set the spine of the book on a smooth, flat surface, holding both covers up, your palms pressed together as if in prayer.

Sixth, gently open the covers of the book, and run your hand along the inside edges of the binding, lightly pressing down against the underlying surface. What you're doing here is breaking in the book slowly, getting it accustomed to the feel of its first reader. Too often these days, books have brittle spines. A little care now can prevent a lot of damage later.

Seventh, reach in from each side toward the middle, using your thumbs to grab a few pages at a time. Ease these sections down along the covers, then again draw your forefingers along the inside edge or gutters, slowly and thoughtfully. Now you're getting the book used to staying open, evenly and easily.

Eight, repeat this process, thumbing a little bit more of the book with each pass, working to the middle of the book. Once you reach the center, again with a firm but gentle pressure, smooth the pages down, first along the inside edge, then from the middle outward.

Ninth, close the book, setting it down on its back cover. Press down on the surface with both hands, just to let the book know for the first time what it feels like to be closed again, to take a breath, to wait.

Tenth, immediately heft the book, so that the spine nestles comfortably against your palm. Consider its weight.

Eleventh, open the book again, this time to the very first page. And page by page, with reverence, attend its words, savor its typography, contemplate its structure. Open yourself to its deep meaning.

That's how to open a book.

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