I hate dust jackets.
They’re like wrapping paper that for some reason we’ve decided not to throw away after buying the book. Shiny and covered with ad-copy. Embarrassing and wrong like a dog in a sweater. Thousands of empty calories. Can you imagine trying to preserve the structural integrity of shrink wrap on something from the grocery store after ripping it open to get at what’s inside?
When I get a hardcover, the first thing I do is remove its jacket and throw it in some corner where it’s no longer in my field of vision. No blurbs, no bios, nothing the writer didn’t intend to be there. Now I can read the book in peace.
A couple years ago, when I decided to reread Delillo’s Underworld, I made a big decision. Rather than put the jacket back on once I was done, I cut it up and used fragments for a collage. This accomplished a couple things at once. It made a useless thing potentially useful and it guaranteed I wouldn’t be able to sell this book back to a secondhand store.
Unlike me, resellers of books think dust jackets add value, so lacking one decreases the already negligible amount they offer when I bring books in. My history with these stores is long. I discovered them as an eleven or twelve year old when me and my only friend would raid our parents’ bookshelves for product that could be traded in for videogame and pizza money.
I can usually afford pizza by less involved means these days and quit videogames after punctuating the end of my grad-school career with a week-long binge twenty-eight years ago. But the practice of trading in old books and records for new ones has remained a constant. These days I almost always take store credit rather than cash. I want the things I no longer need to circulate.
Removing a dust jacket changes the commercial relationship of the book as a product. Without it, the book stops looking like what fills most bookstores and online portals. Now it’s a one or two color block in muted tones made of cardboard and cloth with some words on the spine and maybe a small embossed design on the front. It looks like something from another age because that’s what it now is. Without the garish camouflage, it’s a quiet relic that gives away the fact that reading is nothing like TV or billboards. That dumb jacket is like the thrift-store tuxedo a shy kid is forced to wear to be let into the prom.
Last week I took a good look at my bookshelf for the first time in some months. I was thinking of culling the collection a bit but couldn’t come up with more than one or two candidates. Instead, I started stripping the big art books of their jackets. Almost immediately, I liked the whole look of the shelf better. The more jackets I piled on the floor, the better it became. I gathered all the jackets and stuffed them roughly into one of the bins of collage fodder. I understand that now the store will likely no longer accept these if I bring them in. I can and likely will eventually give all of them away, but the commercial concerns will not be a part of that.
Without the party clothes, books can just be valued as a gift from one person to another.