Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

What (Some) American Libraries Do To Books


Can somebody explain to me why certain libraries remove book jackets? The results look like plucked birds, you can't tell a chicken from a pheasant. All that's left are lumps of text without an author photo, bio, blurbs or descriptions. What do librarians do with the jackets? Do they take them home and wallpaper their modest homes? Or is there an illicit trade in these things, sort of like baseball cards? Books without jackets are slobs, as they used to say in the old days about men without jackets. Most restaurants didn't let in men without jackets. Men had to ask permission of the ladies to remove their jackets. In the '60s when everything went to rack and ruin, men took off their jackets for good. That's when the old days ended. The downslide was vertiginous. At first, sweaters replaced jackets, then long-sleeved shirts, then the sleeves got rolled up, then everything puddled into the T-shirt, which is now universal. In California even the T-shirts came off, though most restaurants, to their credit, require some kind of cloth over large bellies. I'm just trying to establish a timeline here. Did librarians start ripping out book jackets at about the time dress codes relaxed in the '60s? It's a shaky analogy, I know, because jackets on men were replaced by something, whereas book jackets in libraries haven't. It's bad enough that books now come from publishers poured into shrink-wrap that normal people can't possibly tear away without a butcher knife. These new-book prophylactics are the publishers' equivalent of child-proof bottle caps. But at least the books still have their jackets under the plastic. Removing a book jacket is, let's face it, castrating. Which brings us back to that old conundrum of libraries and censorship. Are librarians censoring the book-jacket information to keep children from looking at authors' pictures? Authors aren't that good-looking, most of them aren't anyway, but if there is one thing we know about authors, it's this: they are perverts. Until the '60s, authors in jackets on book covers were all depicted smoking cigarettes and/or holding a highball. After the '60s, cigarettes became uncool and alcohol a no-no, so authors slid out of their jackets and had themselves photographed looking like they couldn't wait to get out of there to have a smoke and a drink. Repression. Somewhere between the men's peeling off their jackets, the publishers taking the cigs out of writers' mouths, and the general decay of manners in our time, lies the answer to the castration of books in libraries. Or is there some other explanation?

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