Tragedy of Bookish Proportions

I decided this afternoon to pick up Leonard Peikoff's treatise, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand [OPAR], again, after a 15 year hiatus. I recently reorganized my bookshelves and had noticed that this book looked a little sickly, but I didn't investigate.

Well, tonight I opened it to start reading from the beginning, and realized that the binding was totally broken. The first 81 pages had separated completely from the rest of the binding.

No big deal, right? Just buy another. But this is a first edition hardcover, ordered months before it was published in 1991. And because I've cared for it, it's in great condition, but for this inexplicable break in the binding.

I immediately thought about book restorers, and what it would cost to have a pro fix it, but then I realized... the glue used in bindings is quite similar to what comes from a hot glue gun. I took a quick look and saw that there was ample room for me to fix this -- I had plenty to work with -- so I got out the glue gun that the kids use for crafts, and went to work.

I think, after a couple of trials, that I got it. A quick inspection shows that it seems to work like a real book again. For now it's sitting on the shelf wrapped in rubber bands, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

And I'm excited to pick up the book again. I just couldn't read it in its broken state. I really have no idea how the binding could break like that when it wasn't a book I even finished at the time.

Well, here's hoping that my amateur book-binding surgery is good enough to allow for a good old-fashioned reading of the text.


z said...

I've ordered a lot of books from Second Renaissance and ARB over the years, mostly paperback. I was surprised how quickly my "Return of the Primitive" by Meridian fell apart; on the first reading. My OPAR paperback, by Meridian, held up a lot better. Although, after taking it nearly everywhere I went with me for years, it has quite a bit of tape on it now. But, it's still in one piece.

Stephen Bourque said...

Hey, that's weird. Mine is broken almost in the same spot - between pages 82 and 83! It's getting kind of hard to hold, and I've been needing to spend some time in it for Greg Perkins' seminar.

C. August said...

It's been so long, I don't remember where I ordered it from. But it's from Dutton, which is apparently part of Penguin now, so it's not like it was bound by some second-rate publisher.

Stephen, that really is strange that yours is broken in the same spot. Is it a 1st edition like mine? I wonder if there was some glitch in the manufacturing... anyway, the paper backing that the binding glue sticks to was still intact, so I had some substrate to apply the hot glue to. Maybe it will work.


Matt said...

Oh, man. Nothing is more depressing than when bad things happen to good books (and, no, I'm not kidding). As a student, I have to be thrifty, so, though I have hundreds of books, I don't have many first editions. I have a hard time reading the ones I have. I just fear I'll do something bad to them.

I read my paperback copy of OPAR to death and ended up giving away the taped-up copy away to someone showing a budding interest in Objectivism. I got Dr. Peikoff to sign my replacement, but it is still my only copy. So, it does get used and I'm noticing some early signs of wear. I really need to get a new copy for research only.

Hope your glue gun solution works.


C. August said...

I may need to get a paperback copy as well. But based on my inspection this morning, the hot glue seems to have worked. If I didn't know it had been broken, I wouldn't be able to tell. I'll still be treating it gently though.

Rational Jenn said...

My first edition OPAR got chocolate-milked and was unsalvageable. :o(

Good luck with yours!

Stephen Bourque said...

I think mine is a first-edition copy. It's a Dutton/Penguin edition from December 1991.

LB has a newer paperback copy that is in much better shape!

Burgess Laughlin said...

I have had my hardback copy of OPAR since it was first issued, in 1991 or 1992. I don't know the technical terms, but I can report a similar failure. The set of pages, considered as a whole, did split apart between page 84 and 85. In the gap, I can see the tan-colored inside of the cover. Possibly the original glue gives it the tan color.

Apparently what happened is that the glue holding the block of pages to the hard cover cracked, allowing the block of pages to split. The remainder of the book is in perfect condition considering that I have used the book hundreds of times, opening and closing it and stuffing notes into it.

I will probably spread glue into mine, along the crack. I use books by marking them up heavily. I don't care about their appearance. My most used--and most tattered--book is The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

C. August said...

Burgess, that is exactly the scenario I faced. The brown paper backing was just as you described.

In case you decide to try my solution, here is what I did:

1) I flattened out that paper backing and the cloth reinforcements at the top and bottom of the binding
2) I used a hot glue gun because the consistency of the hardened glue seemed similar to that used in the original binding, and it sets up quickly
3) I put generous amounts of glue on the brown paper and on the back of the 82 pages that had separated as a single unit, and pressed them together tightly for about a minute
4) Then I wrapped the book in rubber bands and let it sit overnight.

I too care more about the book being usable than I care about how it looks. It's not a collector's item, but something to read. Though because it's in good shape and a first edition like yours and Stephen's, I'll try to keep it that way.

The fact that three of us have the same first edition hardback and they failed in the same spot, lends weight to my speculation about a manufacturing defect. I wonder how many other copies of that first run of OPAR suffered similar fates?

I find contemplating questions like that interesting because it gives me a window into an industry in a way I had previously never thought about. Who knew that book bindings could consistently fail in such a way, and at the same spot? Was the paper backing too short? Did the glue-applicator machine have some sort of defect or blockage such that glue wasn't applied at that spot as it rolled along? Fun stuff to think about...

Roderick Fitts said...

The first copy of OPAR I had came from my association with the University of Michigan Students of Objectivism.

I had it for about two weeks before the first 60 or so pages were torn out by some very young relatives of mine who didn't know what books were for...

Of course, I bought the club a new book, and later got my own copy to study.