Making paperbacks more durable
September 8, 2016 8:36 AM   Subscribe

The new(ish) Scholastic paperback editions of Harry Potter have lovely cover art by the excellent Kazu Kibuishi. I'd like to own a nice set of Harry Potter books with this art, but I'd hate to have my pretty books wind up with bendy covers and other paperback issues. Does anyone have experience with taking paperbacks such as these and re-binding them as hardcovers, or otherwise making them more durable? Difficulty: There's a box they've got to fit in, and the spines line up into a piece of art.
posted by 4th number to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The section of this pdf starting on p 27 should be of interest. Library binding/stiffening are keywords for more Googling.

Alternatively, and most simply, perhaps just don't make these copies your everyday readers?
posted by supercres at 8:49 AM on September 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

My gut reaction is that there's no way to do this. To re-bind a paperback in a hard cover will inevitably give you a book that's wider in all directions; even if it's only slightly larger, it's not going to go back into the same box. Even a plastic lamination might leave you with books that won't quite go back into the box.

Why not buy two box sets, one to read and handle, and one to keep in pristine condition? It'll be a lot cheaper.
posted by pipeski at 8:51 AM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Cover them with plastic. The reusable covers on shopbrodart are my personal favorite, but might add too much height. The library store has adhesive and non adhesive ones. You can just use contact paper.
posted by soelo at 8:55 AM on September 8, 2016

My objective is to have usable reading copies with this art on them that will remain in nice enough condition indefinitely. I am willing to compromise on many other things, such as: the spacing of the spine art, the level of personal effort involved, and having to work on the box itself.
posted by 4th number at 8:56 AM on September 8, 2016

My mom teaches 4th grade and has an enormous (possibly a couple thousand) collection of paperback mass market children's books for her library. Many of them she's had for decades. The books I grew up with were some of the ones she grew up with, and many of them are still in active use in her classroom, having been read and loved by hundreds of kids over her teaching career.


Every new book she gets goes through a thorough breaking in process. First, she bends back the front and back covers just enough so that there's a prescribed crease for them to follow as they open. Then she (gently!) flexes the book back and front to make it pliant. She opens the book a few pages at a time (20-ish pages per chunk, about as much as a kid would read in a sitting) and gently folds through the book as if it's being read, so that the book isn't a struggle to hold open--this avoids the giant binding-breaking crease down the middle endemic to paperbacks. Then she threatens the children with certain death if they harm her books.

At the first sign of cover distress (maybe a slight fold or dent in the cover) she takes good quality clear mailing tape and tapes off the edges of the front and back covers. It makes them stiff and super durable and prevents further damage. If the binding cracks (which doesn't happen unless some kid bends the book in half LIKE A SAVAGE) she takes it out of circulation for a while and lines a bead of white glue down the crack, then covers the binding with clear mailing tape after its dry.

This process has kept her books in top shape for years and years and years. I know next time I'm home I can walk into her classroom, pull the same 1960s era copy of Blue Willow that my mom read, that I read, and that tons of her students have read off the shelf and have it still be in excellent, readable condition.

For you, since presumably your HP books won't be going into battle like my mom's classroom books, I would recommend doing the full book breaking in portion and then just using common sense. Don't stuff your books into a full bag and schlep them around for a week. Don't leave them near the dog. Etc.
posted by phunniemee at 8:58 AM on September 8, 2016 [15 favorites]

My library gets some paperbacks professionaly rebound as hardbacks, so it can be done but will definitely change the dimensions of the books. And it altered the appearance of the cover art too, since it had to cover a larger surface area so I don't know that this will fit your requirements. phunniemee's mom's technique coupled with generally careful reading looks like the best solution if you don't want to buy two sets.
posted by daisysteiner at 9:08 AM on September 8, 2016

What you want are the turtleback editions. They aren't available as a box set but they'll stand up to plenty of wear and tear.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:38 AM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Rebinding is a fairly high skill activity to do well, if you really want it rebound I think you're a lot better off paying a professional book conservator to do it for you. But from what I know, I think your best bet is being careful with the book while reading it, and in 20 years (or whatever) take it to a conservator, rather than doing it preemptively. The other complication is that you're at the mercy of the materials. It's almost certainly cheaper to just buy two sets now and store one, as long as the materials are ok.

she takes it out of circulation for a while and lines a bead of white glue down the crack, then covers the binding with clear mailing tape after its dry.

uh, I'm pretty sure this is really, really bad for the book over the long run. Don't do any repair that involves tape, ever. (Source: my girlfriend is a paper conservator.)
posted by advil at 9:43 AM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Perhaps you could have the originals for more common reading and read the Kazu Kibuishi once then keep them for the beauty of the art.
posted by Altomentis at 10:36 AM on September 8, 2016

Additionally, paperbacks just aren't designed to last a long time, especially those printed since the 1970s. The paper is not archival and will yellow over time almost regardless of what you do. Also the glue tends to get brittle and lose its adhesion, then pages or the entire text block detach from the cover. Some of our older trade paperbacks have held up well, others not so much. Usually it is older more unusual books that have held up well, e.g., Islandia, by Austin Tappan Wright. I have probably had it 30 or 40 years.
posted by Altomentis at 10:41 AM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Scholastic books are mean to be affordable. They use inexpensive paper. I would not spend the money to have them re-bound. Buy a set to put on the shelf as as, and read the others. You can put a strip of clear packing tape along the spine, trimming the ends with a razor, to help the ones you read hold up. Just the act of reading them will mean they will never fit back in the box. I would enjoy having pristine copies of the Tolkien books my cousin brought us when I was a young teen, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed reading them. Write t Scholastic - maybe they have a poster of the art?
posted by theora55 at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2016

uh, I'm pretty sure this is really, really bad for the book over the long run. Don't do any repair that involves tape, ever. (Source: my girlfriend is a paper conservator.)

Followup, I sent this thread to my girlfriend (who isn't a mefi member) and here's a brief response (slightly edited to add a link):
Tape is evil! Clear packing tape won't remain clear! Board stiffening works in the short term (say 20 years) but will ultimately damage the spine. But frankly, in 20 years the paper in the mass market paperbacks won't be much good anyway. So if they are bound and determined to fix their book, then look up Cornell library's info on board stiffening. Their diagrams do a good job of showing the changes that board stiffening brings to soft covers. PVA and board stiffening are NOT what I'd recommend for rare books, but these aren't rare books.
posted by advil at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

And (sorry for two posts) here's a couple links with pictures showing what happens to tape:
posted by advil at 1:19 PM on September 8, 2016

Phunimee's advice is good, but nth do not use packing tape! I see a lot of archival materials patched with mailing tape and it doesn't hold up at all. I would go with 3M archival library tape. I would follow soelo's link to the library store. I would invest in book covers to use while reading.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:21 PM on September 8, 2016

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