Page Edges

Photo by diannehope via

Fore edge:  the edge of the book directly opposite the spine, and may refer to either the boards or the pages. Top edge specifies the top of the book, and tail edge, of course, describes the bottom.

Fore edges may appear rough, or deckled, which used to indicate that the paper had been hand-made, and was, in fact, characteristic of quality books into the late 19th, and early 20th centuries. Today, limited edition books, or private press releases may still be constructed of hand-made paper, but machine-made deckled fore edges are now common, too, in large print runs of popular authors.

Deckled-edge pages

With the Industrial Revolution, book publishing became mechanized and page edges were, finally, able to be cleanly and evenly trimmed. Machine-trimmed pages are considered cut, and described as smooth, or clean edged.

Uncut pages are exactly what you might think – pages that have not been cut, or trimmed, in any way, during manufacturing i.e. deckled pages, or unopened pages cut before reading.

Unopened pages

Photo by London School of Economics and Political Science’s Library

Unopened pages may occur during the binding process when pages have not been properly trimmed. Years ago, long, long before I was ever aware of book collecting, I received a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories I was avidly reading at the time. When I sat down with the book, I discovered the pages were ‘stuck’ together at the top at regular intervals. I think part of me knew that I might have been holding something old and valuable but, on the other hand, part of me said, “to heck with it, read the book.” So I did.

And, in case anyone is wondering – no, I didn’t take much care cutting the pages. I used my fingernail, not a paper knife or a playing card. Unfortunately.

Half-Title Page

Photo by ttronslien via

Half-Title Page:  In publishing’s early days, books were sold unbound. This custom allowed the purchaser to select their own binding material in a colour of their own choosing when they could afford it. Unfortunately, this also meant that the loose piles of paper were subjected to extra handling, and were at risk of being damaged. In order to protect the manuscript’s, often decorative, Title Page during transport, booksellers topped the pile with a single sheet of paper holding only the title.

Half Title & Title Page
Half-Title Page (left) and Title Page (right)

Originally called the Bastard-Title Page, this practice has become tradition and, even though we buy our books bound, today, with the title on the cover, the half-title page is still a part of every book.

Guess What I Found?

Photo by Plume via

A few months ago, our local library held a book sale; it was their semi-annual fundraiser of library discards, and patron donations. I was joined by a couple of dozen others, and ever so carefully, each of us made our way through all the tables, and inside all the boxes underneath them. I think most of us were a bit excited, but then again, searching for buried treasure is like that.

One of the books I picked up was called Icebound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle For Survival At the South Pole by Dr. Jerri Nielson with Maryanne Vollers. The blurb on the back described a doctor who, while wintering over at the South Pole, discovers she has breast cancer and is forced to treat herself until help can arrive in the spring. It had a familiar ring to it. I was sure I’d caught the tail end of a made-for-TV movie, a few years back, based on this very same account.

When I flipped open the front cover, I found a label there. Not just any label, though, it identified this book as a Bookcrossing release. (More on Bookcrossing here.) Aha, I thought, a treasure – and into my box of books it went.

I was anxious to get Icebound home; open up the website and trace its journey to North Battleford, SK. Online, I discovered it had been purchased at a Saskatoon Symphony sponsored garage sale, read, then passed on to the purchaser’s sister. That’s where the record stopped but it didn’t take long for me to log on, and to record its new location as Cut Knife, SK.

I’ve since read the book. It’s an amazing tale of courage in a truly inhospitable environment, described by Dr. Jerri Nielson with honesty and candour. She tells her story with such affection for that icebound continent that I’ve been inspired to read more on arctic exploration.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I passed Icebound on to a friend in a controlled release. And, now, because my curiosity will force me to, I’ll have to check in occasionally to follow the rest of its journey!

Readers Rule!

Flipping through the April 25th edition of People magazine, I came across a blurb about “The Hunger Games” entitled “Nerds Rule.” The movie had just hit the theatres a couple of weeks earlier; their PR was everywhere and here was, yet, again, more commentary. This had an interesting twist, though. Read on:

“Rejoice bookworms, for we are the most powerful people in Hollywood. Mega-hit series like “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” make studios ever more reliant on readers to know what will sell, which means they have to listen to fans. In the end, Hollywood has a simple choice, really: Surrender or die.”

Point taken. These movies were made because of the popularity of the books upon which they were based, and they’ve generated billions of dollars in profits. So, think about that. The shear number of copies sold had to have been enough to inform Hollywood producers, and their financial backers that a blockbuster production would almost certainly be successful. But . . . are there really that many bookworms out there?

In 2009, an American agency, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), published the results of their most recent survey of the reading habits of Americans: Reading on the Rise. For the first time in 25 years, they had figures to show that the amount of literature read in the United States had increased; the actual number of people reading literature had increased, and the fastest growing segment of readers was young adults, aged 18 – 24. And, that demographic, co-incidentally, is the same demographic responsible for the bulk of movie ticket purchases (stats here).

In Canada, in 2003, the Association for Canadian Studies was commissioned to poll Canadians on their reading habits in the six months prior to the survey. Only 15% of respondents had not read any books at all in the previous six months. Among 18 – 29 year-olds, only 14% had not read a book in that time period but a whopping 44% had read from 1 – 5 books. For the full story, click here.

It’s great to see that literacy initiatives are succeeding; that engaging novels are being written, and that a love of reading is being nurtured.  As the NEA concluded in their report: “Cultural decline is not inevitable.”