Annual Top Shelf $3 Sale Post Plus Burn Your Book Jackets!

by John Holbo on September 14, 2009

Everyone should have a hobby. Mine is: when Top Shelf comics has one of their periodic $3 sales, I try to tell people that a couple of these recurring, sadly semi-remaindered titles, are only just about the best I’ve read from the last couple years. I wrote the same damn post – about the same damn books, practically – only last year. It’s not as though writing the same post over and over makes me appear especially clever. I must believe what I’m saying. Here, let me talk you through the procedure: you should buy, at a minimum, Scott Morse‘s The Barefoot Serpent and Lilli Carré‘s Tales of Woodsman Pete and Dan JamesThe Octopi and the Ocean and Mosquito. Check out the previews if you don’t believe me. I also feel the James Kochalka and Jeffrey Brown titles would be very solid purchases, and the price is right. And, oh, I could walk you through the best bits of the whole store, in my private opinion. (Buy Jeff Lemire.) But I want to focus on these four recommendations as sincerely heartfelt. $12 for the foursome. That’s pitiful. I feel I am robbing the artists themselves, just telling you the good news. Please buy these books so that Top Shelf runs out and I don’t have to keep writing this post. (Maybe I’m misunderstanding the economics of the situation and this will go on forever. Maybe it’s like Wall Street. It doesn’t have to make economic sense. I just don’t know.)

In other news, I’m reading Jan Tschichold‘s The Form of the Book. He’s the Wittgenstein of typography. (But that’s a different story: and I don’t mean that Tschichold was a good philosopher. It is a point about temperament. I do say so admiringly.) The next time you are at a party, see if you can humiliate your host by subjecting his or her bookshelf to this discerning treatment.

Only the book jacket offers the opportunity to let formal fantasy reign for a time. But it is no mistake to strive for an approximation between the typography of the jacket and that of the book. The jacket is first and foremost a small poster, an eye-catcher, where much is allowed that would be unseemly within the pages of the book itself. It is a pity that the cover, the true garb of a book, is so frequently neglected in favor of today’s multicolor jacket. Perhaps for this reason many people have fallen into the bad habit of placing books on the shelf while still in their jackets. I could understand this if the cover were poorly designed or even repulsive. But as a rule, book jackets belong in the waste paper basket, like empty cigarette packages.

What I like is the afterthought quality of ‘or even repulsive’. I would like to see this scene played on the stage. But I wouldn’t pay a lot of money to see it, admittedly.



pilgrimtraveller 09.14.09 at 5:57 pm

Jan Tschichold is a hero of mine. His book “Asymmetric Typography” may be the chief reason why I, in my mid-50s, am trying to make a ridiculously hard transition to a new vocation. After decades of working as a photographer and a teacher of photography, I have just finished an MFA in Graphic Design, and Tschichold is the major figure in my thesis. Anything he wrote repays careful reading. Once you’ve completed both “The Form of the Book” and “Asymmetric Typography”, read “The New Typography”. Many of the essays in “Form” were written after he had forsaken the avant-gardism of the latter two books. His views changed, but the temperament you note remained the same, I believe.


Substance McGravitas 09.14.09 at 9:13 pm

You can’t throw out Chris Ware book jackets.


Bloix 09.14.09 at 10:30 pm


Dust jackets or dust wrappers were originally designed to protect a book in transit—just until it reached the safety of an owner’s library. The first recorded use of a dust jacket goes back as far as the mid-nineteenth century, but they were generally discarded after serving their initial purpose. Very few early jackets survive.

In the early twentieth century, however, dust jackets developed from simple coverings to art forms and promotional aids that became integral to the book. Because collectors of modern first editions generally prefer a copy as close as possible to the first appearance of the book in every way, most prefer a dust jacket when obtainable. Some dust jackets are exceptionally scarce, such as those of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises.

Condition of the dust jacket is key to the value, just as it is in books. Since they are made of paper, they are extremely fragile. Though no longer designed only for protection, dust jackets are the book’s first defense against sunlight, humidity, handling, dust, and other stresses. Naturally, they can show substantial wear: chipping, fading, darkening, staining and tears. They are still often discarded, and many are more fragile and prone to wear than others. For example, they may be light colored and show soiling quite easily, or made of a particularly fragile paper and prone to chipping or fading. Just as the difference in value between a modern first edition with a jacket and a copy without one can be considerable, the difference in value between a poor jacket and fine or near-fine jacket can be substantial.


ben 09.15.09 at 12:30 am

Dust jackets are important to modern first editions because they’re something else that can go wrong, basically.


minnesotaj 09.15.09 at 1:13 am

…didn’t Tschichold also disdain the hardcover book, per se? I think you could find a sentence to that effect in either The Form of the Book or The New Typography. A random selection of a 1960s Gallimard paperback and any one of the “handsome” hardcover volumes at your local bookseller might incline you to agree.


Jesus McQueen 09.15.09 at 6:23 am

Given what Tschichold thought of dust jackets, you can imagine his contempt for the mylar covers that are pretty much de rigueur for intact djs on collectible books these days. A Russian edition of The Form of the Book has recently been published, which is very handsome.

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