The English language is a funny thing, especially when “breaking-in” something is what you do to prevent something from breaking. But there it is.

I love hardcover books. The quality of paper the printers use is generally of a higher quality, and the bindings tend to last longer. But a good binding will only last if it is treated properly. When you get a new book, you never want to open it straight down the middle when you first handle it. Doing this can damage or even crack the spine and ruin your new book. Instead, you want to ease it open, little by little.

When I got a new set of leather bound scriptures for my birthday a few years ago, it came with a little set of instructions on how to condition its new binding. I asked my son to help demonstrate how it’s done with the new collection of Sherlock Holmes he got for Christmas.

Here we go.

Start with your book, flat on a table, with the spine down. Like this:


Open the front cover and lay it down on the table. Then open the book to the twentieth page or so, and smooth the pages down with your hand. Nice and gently. Don’t force anything.


Do the same thing on the other side.


Go back to the first side, and turn down another ten or twenty pages, and smooth them down. Repeat with the other side. Keep going with another twenty pages, and alternate back and forth between the front and the back.



When you reach the middle, you’re done. Close the book, open to the first page, and start reading. Now that, my friends, is elementary.


While I was posting this, I was happy to find similar instructions from the bookbinder William Matthews.