My Two Cents on Dust Covers

Feather DusterIt’s my day off, but I’ve got get something off my chest, and I invite your response: Is it a sin to throw away dust covers (which may also be referred to as dustcovers—per Webster; I looked—or dust jackets)? Or does it at least represent a character deficiency? Some say yes (the legalists!). I say no! In fact, I say that keeping dust covers is probably indicative of an unhealthy carefulness that borders on OCD. Dust covers are burdens difficult to be borne. My two cents on dust covers:

  • They’re unsightly. I’d much rather see the beautiful spine (preferably  an earth tone) and gold lettering than a slick and colorful piece of paper. For example, the green and white covers that come with “The Works of John Owen” are just ugly; the books themselves, however are beautiful—a flat (to borrow a painter’s term) green which is far more attractive than the glossy green of, say, Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology set. So I threw the covers away.
  • They’re unwieldy. They just get in the way, or fall off, or whatever. Sure, you can tape them in, but they’re still a nuisance, and they’re still ugly—now permanently so.
  • They’re useless. What are they protecting the book from anyway? When dust gathers on the books on my shelves, it gathers on the pages, not the spines (per gravity) or the fronts and backs (per the books next to them). Find a way to keep dust off the place it naturally settles on and get back to me. (I realize that one could turn his books so that the dust covered spines are up and the books are thus protected. It just makes it, you know, hard to tell them apart).
  • They’re redundant. They protect (or at least pretend to protect) the beautiful cover of the book—which no one will ever see!!! If all people will be able to view is the glossy and cheap cover, what we really need is a dust cover for the dust cover.
  • They’re tacky. Ever go into someone’s home and see their sofa covered in plastic? Nice. Nothing says “make yourself at home” like a plastic sofa cover! Just to be sure I understand: In order to preserve the (supposedly) beautiful upholstery (a strange word, no?) which no one will ever see, you’ve placed a tarp on it? Are you sure you’re not just lying, and using the sofa cover to hide a hideous sofa? And if not, why not? You could have saved some serious cash! Anyway, that’s what dust covers are like. (Other illustrations abound: the coating that comes on spectacles, watches, and digital devices that is supposed to be removed; clear table cloths that permanently cover beautiful wood furniture, etc. You get the idea.)

Now, lest I be charged with sinning against my books, let me be clear that I’m not opposed to protecting books. In fact, my preference is to cover my paperback books (also called softback and softcover) with contact paper. (Aside: Aren’t paperbacks sad? Poor things.) It takes a while, but my 12-year-old is getting good at it. And lest I be accused of hypocrisy, this is different. The contact paper is not unsightly (it’s invisible), unwieldy (it sticks, like skin; you don’t even know it’s there), useless (ever get a paperback wet?), or redundant (providing protection without hiding the book itself). Tacky? Well, yeah, maybe. Probably, in fact.

But if you’re going to protect your books, protect the ones in serious danger! Paperbacks are the women and children of the library, and they deserve valiant protection. Hardbacks (also known as hardcovers or hardbound, though I think the latter can only be used as an adjective; “hardbounds” doesn’t sound right)? They’re the soldiers of your library, and they’ll be fine. Don’t make them wear a dress.

I urge you to liberate yourself and your books from the tyranny of dust covers. Stop treating your beautiful books like you’re ashamed of them or afraid for them. Yes, you can cut out and keep the blurbs on the inside of the covers if you’d like, but toss the rest of the covers. You’ll feel guilty at first, as if you’ve done something wicked. You’ll doubt whether you’ve done the right thing. But persevere. It gets easier, and your conscience will be reprogrammed over time. Keep tossing them. You’ll thank me later.


(Disclaimer: My Two Cents cannot be held responsible for the drop in value of books which may occur as a result of taking the author’s advice. Anyway, you’re supposed to be buying books, not selling them.)


30 Responses

  1. Someone has had too much time during their day off to wax eloquent about dust covers, eh? – jk.

    i agree that they are a nuisance, and have thrown a few away after use (or misuse). Of course, we should be going green and recycling them, rather than pitching them.

  2. Baker, Nicholson. Books as Furniture. The New Yorker, June 12, 1995, 84-92.

    Read that in college — basically a creative piece explaining that books have multiple functions, namely we like to look at them; they complete the room, etc. It is very hard for books to be furniture when they have those disgusting covers semi-attached to them. I too have thrown away many a cover:)

    That’s why I just can’t bring myself to go all electronic — I just love boos. I like to write in them, highlight them, leave paper in them, etc.

  3. Okay, wow! There goes all my church-planting support!

    I said, “I just love boos” AH!

    I meant, “I just love books!”


  4. I figured you meant to say “I just love Joos.” MTC brings people together!

    My friend Cathie notes on my Facebook account that another example for the “tacky” point is the plastic cover that comes on lamp shades. Indeed.

  5. You overstate the case, friend. I did the same with John Owen’s works, but only after overcoming my pride–the dust jackets have “The Works of John Owen” in large print so everyone who comes in your office says “Wow, he has the works of John Owen” (and all that brings with it). However, some books, unfortunately today, have classier jackets than actual covers (The Prince of Preachers, by Lewis Drummond, for instance). Finally, some are meant to show a series, like the beautiful rainbow effect of the dust jackets on my “Great Preaching” series from Sword of the Lord. [Another topic–is it a sin to have Banner of Truth books and Sword of the Lord books on the same bookcase?]

  6. btw, my comment about going “green” was tongue-in-cheek.

    There is just something about the smell of a new book (or an old one that you get for a really good bargain from ebay, or Kregel or…… sorry, I was just relishing some of my previous gems I have found, some with dust covers and some without) that is exciting. A friend from college taught me the value of smelling a good book.

  7. Thanks for the post Chris. In the for-what-it’s-worth category, the librarians at Southern Seminary cut out the blurb about the author and tape it inside the back cover of a book before tossing the book jackets. They have over a million items in the library, but not a single book jacket. …so yes, you’re definitely compromising by throwing away perfectly good book jackets like the SBs.

    -from a librarian who has taped hundreds (thousands?) of polyester covers onto book jackets in order to protect the paper that allegedly protects the books.

  8. Chris,

    I have to add that everyone really needs to get rid of the naked people splashed all over the dust jackets of the NICOT and NICNT commentary series. Of course they are BJU-art-gallery-type-naked-people, so maybe they’re OK?

    I be a Northland Intergalactic University grad, so I ain’t suffistucated enuff to no ’bout those things.



  9. Mark, just get John to put some black tape on the inside of the poly covers over the dust jackets with the works of art on the NIC’s. That should do the trick.

  10. Wow! I think you guys have all been smelling too many books and sniffing too much book dust!

  11. Chris,

    Don’t give up on them too soon.

    There is one thing about dust jackets that I would like to quibble with you about. Dust jackets can make excellent book marks if you need to hold your place while studying and your book insists on closing. If you take the flap and insert it into the page that you are reading, you can quickly come back to it after it is closed.

    Don’t be too critical now. :)


  12. I agree with Pearson about Owen.

    Now, all I need is for someone to come in my office who knows who John Owen is and will be impressed that I have all the volumes.

    But to the serious side, how do you keep your place in a book without a book jacket? I have having to rummage through the trash can for a piece of scrap paper to mark my place. I would try to remember the page number, but when I return to Owen in three months, I will have forgotten that too.

  13. Kevin and Larry need to mix with John and they’ll arrive at my solution:

    Cut out the blurb about the author, but rather than taping it inside the cover, save it as a book mark.

  14. A few more miscellaneous thoughts on book lovers and book covers (alas, a phrase which has me musing on a new hymn text)…

    * Guys want hard cover books, rather than paperbacks. However, it is a crime the way modern publishers (and I hope Crossway is listening) take the intermediary step and put colorful, paperback-looking pictures on the hardcovers—as the binding!!! What happened to the dignity of matte finishes with gold letters? Now we have hard covers that look like paperbacks? “Friends, we got trouble…trouble…trouble…”

    * Though I commended the classy finish of the Owen series, I actually have a couple volumes that depart from the classy (cloth?) finish and look more like the shiny Hodge finish. What’s up with that?? Make up your minds already.

    * Pearson, I’m often tempted to put my Finney set on the same shelf with my Owen set. I think I’d probably come in the next day to see the Finneys all face down on the floor with their covers broken off.

  15. YES. My old roommate Kevin Plew already nailed what I was about to say—use the flaps as bookmarks. Or did I learn that from you KP?

  16. NO. That’s like defending sofa covers by saying they double as afghans when you’re chilly.

    There’s only one proper solution: Remove the dust cover, cut the author blurb to retain as a bookmark, and throw the rest of the dust cover away. Sorry, but I’ll not yield on this. ;)

  17. Related: Larry says that end notes are “a sin against the reader.” Totally true.

  18. I agree about the endnotes, and so are lengthy footnotes. You know the kind — the lengthy ones which allow only part of one paragraph to appear on three consecutive pages.

  19. Chris,

    Great post! Too much free time?

    What do you think of duck tape?


  20. May I suggest that your next such post inform your readers on how you handle the cotton-like substance in pill bottles?

  21. Greg, that would be frivolous. Sheesh.

  22. Chris, I do wish you would get to the bottom of the Owen set mixes. Mine all have the nice cloth covers, but half of them have green-edged pages (5-9, 12-15) and half have white edges.

    Do you peel the colored covers off the crossway books? Are you really consistent?

    How does this discussion relate to keeping your bible in its box?

  23. Chris,

    Thank you for this post. I too seriously dust jackets, take them off nearly all my hardback books. But I always felt somewhat guilty about it, so I held on to them. Now that my conscience is better informed I feel that I can throw them away. What a relief, I thought that maybe I was just weird, but if you can actually post about it and get more comments about this just about anything else, you have posted in the past month :) then maybe I’m not so different after all.

    Greg, perhaps we could use the cotton in pill bottles to mark our place in our books, or to wipe the dust off of the books :)

  24. Use the cotton to dust our coverless books? Perfect!

  25. I collect the dust jackets until have have a decent pile, then I take them into a copy store and run them–one after the other–through a laminating machine. They come out nice and crisp and help protect your books.

    And added plus: it gives color to your bookshelf.

  26. Tim,

    You cover the cover that covers the cover?

    Get help, my friend. ;)

  27. Umm, actually the impressionist flurry of colors from our “Left Behind” collection (13!) is its own argument and reward for keeping book jackets! BTW, these will be on ebay soon…They are great for pressing flowers…

  28. Sam, reminds me of the time my basement flooded. Century-old sets from my grandfather (Dickens, Twain, etc.) got soaked—a tragedy. Then I find some paperback copies of the Peretti “Darkness” novels in the top of a box, dry as a bone. Figures. Ugh.

  29. Interesting discussion, which I ran into, while searching for (wait for it) Dust Jacket protector(s).

    AKA: Mylar, .. I believe.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that keeping the Dust Jacket, whether for the artwork done by the Book Publisher, etc., or just for the sake of re-sale (on EBAY?) because they are certainly worth a tad bit more than they are without said Dust Jacket.

    I have close to 300 books now. I tend to collect whatever a Writer I like might have written in their careers. I have all of Dale Brown and Tom Clancy. I have about half of what Frank Herbert wrote. The same for Frederik Pohl. Jack Williamson is a bit tougher to find. But, the bottom line is, each of these books are worth considerably more IF they come with Dust Jackets that are in better, or (preferred) GREAT shape/condition. Especially when the books were written back in the 1950’s and 1960’s or 1970’s which was the Era of the Book CLub Edition (BCE), or in my case, the Sci-Fi Book Club.

    So, as you can tell, my opinion is that the book loses some of it’s personality once the dust jacket is thrown off carelessly. And, as I have noticed on EBAY, it also causes the item to lose value.

    Hey, it’s your book. It’s a free country.

  30. […] Posted on September 24, 2010 by Chris I’ll occasionally talk about books on this blog (here, here, and here for example). But I’ve got nothing on this guy. Brilliant. (I apologize to […]

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