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Category: Book Descriptions

Book Descriptions Part Three

Good afternoon bookies! Already it’s Labor Day, the summer is virtually gone and my grass needs to be cut again. I suppose it goes without saying that book people are not drawn to landscaping as a hobby, but it’s doubly so for me. It’s not so much that I object to yard work, I kind of like the exercise and the way the yard looks when I’m done. It’s just that I have so much else to do that finding the time for yardwork is tough.

I know, poor me, right?

While setting up a new blog site for someone else who lives here, (hint: it is not one of the dogs. They’re too young to have internet access yet) it occurred to me that a third entry in the book descriptions was really necessary, to describe common types of wear that books endure. As always, this is based on my definitions of the wear, but I learned my definitions from people of the old school and I think they are a nice mixture of the old and the new, and therefore quite relevant.

One final caveat: as I said in the previous two entries about book descriptions, there are lots of bots out there masquerading as booksellers. They will have the same entry for every single book in their inventory, and it will have all sorts of disclaimers such as “may have shelfwear, may have edgewear, might be ex-library…”, yada-yada. These sellers do not look at the books they are selling and probably couldn’t read them even if they did. If you choose to deal with them, caveat emptor.

Now, without further pomposity, the description terms:

Shelfwear – When books are stacked or lined up next to each other, they tend to rub covers, wearing away some of the top layer. This is called shelfwear. By and large it is most easily seen when looking at the book at an angle with a bright light in the background, showing up as a duller area against the brighter parts that are not worn. Unless a book is protected by a jacket cover or a plastic bag of some sort, shelfwear is inevitable. (Also, if a book does have the jacket protector, it can be shelfworn, too. Don’t be confused by a shelfworn protector, as those are disposable and have no effect on the book.) By my terminology, sheflwear comes in three grades: light, moderate and heavy. These should be self-explanatory, although sometimes I’ll say ‘very light’ to indicate wear that I see but that another seller might overlook or ignore because it is so minimal. I’m not always right, but I always try to be right.

Edgewear – Usually this term applies to a book jacket, but not always. It can just as easily apply to the edges of the book itself, and this should be noted. ‘Light edgewear to the jacket’ or something similar. And the meaning of the term itself is fairly obvious; there is wear to the edge. maybe this is a crumpling or rubbing, maybe it has been bumped and straightened back out, but in essence it means wear along the edges of some sort. Exactly what sort should be noted. For example, shelfwear to a book often results in the cover itself being worn through to whatever is underneath, usually some type of cardboard. This must be noted.

Closed Tear– Jackets are often torn, you see it all the time. A closed tear is when that tear fits neatly back together, with no great visual damage except perhaps a white line when the two halves of the tear meet. This is a defect that must be noted, but how damaging it is to the grade and the value will depend on where the tear is and how large it might be. A tiny tear to the rear bottom edge is not nearly so bad as a four inch tear to the front cover. As to whether or not this prevents you from wanting the book is strictly up to you. For example, if the book is quite rare and the front cover illustration is intact but has tears all around it, you might want that copy regardless. But if the front illustration was largely missing with the rest of the jacket in nice shape, you might not. Once again this is up to your preference.

Shaken – A book that is shaken is one where the spine is not rigid, but has some give to it. Pages are not necessarily loose, but if they are that must be noted.

Scuffs – A scuff is something of an ambiguous term, meaning a scraped area, usually on the edge of a book due to extensive wear, or to a jacket because a price sticker had glue that took the surface of the jacket off when the sticker was incorrectly removed.

Book Descriptions Part Two

Good Morning bookies! Truth be told, I’m writing this blog to procrastinate on cutting the lawn. After attending school for the last year and a half, tending to 4 dogs since Christmas, arranging my website and getting it off the ground, buying and transporting the latest collection of books, not to mention sorting them…well, the yard is a mess. And it must be done. But maybe I can avoid it for another twenty minutes.

So, back to the book descriptions. Yesterday’s blog looked at how things have been done, now let’s take a brief look at the current state of things and how you can avoid the scanner people, amateurs and hobby sellers to ensure you get the book you want.

First, when you use a book search engine such as Bookfinder.com, you have to understand that you’re going to be overloaded with junk sellers, and they will usually be the lowest priced. You can usually tell pretty easily who they are. Scanner people, in particular, have a macro that is automatically installed on every book they sell. It typically reads something like this: “May have marks, writing, damage, may be ex-library.” When you see that, run from it. See, all of those disclaimers are because these people don’t actually bother to look at the book they are selling. No, what they do is scan the bar code, then their computer lifts the book’s publishing data from a database, maybe puts up a stock photo, and loads their macro description to the book’s entry. In essence, it’s automated book selling. Who knows what you are actually getting when you order such a book; certainly the seller doesn’t, because they don’t care.

The condition of books sold by such people is usually the dreaded ‘Good’, as we discussed yesterday. Good ain’t good, but the people running such businesses either don’t know that, or don’t care. So remember, unless you really don’t care about the condition of a book, or it is so rare that you will take whatever you can get, avoid ‘Good’ like the plague. And if you see ‘Fair’…get immunized, quick!

‘Acceptable’ is probably the most moronic descriptive term in use today. What on Earth is ‘Acceptable’ supposed to mean? Great, awful? Acceptable to whom? The origins of this execrable nonsense goes back to the early days of Amazon.com, when people started loading their used books to the site. For some reason known only to the wunderkind programmers at Amazon they thought ‘Acceptable’ was a good default condition for a book. Who knows why, or what they thought it meant. Now you see it everywhere, and it still has no meaning whatsoever. It’s not a book term, it’s not even a collectibles term, it’s a nothing term. If you see this, use great caution buying from the seller.

And then there are the two newest abominations, ‘Standard’ and ‘Mint’. ‘ ‘Standard’…so just what the hell can that mean, anyway? I have no idea. It sounds more like a transmission, so maybe it’s mechanical. Who knows? Was the book immersed in a petroleum-based viscous fluid? Whatever they meant to indicate, what it tells you, the customer, is that the seller has no idea what he or she is doing.

As for ‘Mint’…good grief. It’s a book, not a coin. Or a breath freshener. ‘Mint’ has no place in a book description. But what’s even more fun is when it say something like, “Good. Mint. Used. Writing in book.” That’s an actual description, by the way. If translated into literal terms it would mean, “Not good. Unused and perfect. Used. Writing inside the book.”

So there you have it. The book sites like ABE and Alibris have allowed the market to become the mess that it is today. Heck, Alibris now uses Monsoon, the software that automatically reprices a book if someone undercuts your price, regardless of edition condition, or anything other factors. It’s the same sort of idiocy that caused the stock market crash a while back, when computers created a crisis that did not actually exist. But fortunately you have sellers like those associated with The World Book Market to help you navigate the very muddied waters of 21st century book buying. You don’t have to thank us, just buy a book!

Book Descriptions Part One- The Way It’s Been Done

Good morning bookies! It’s a hot morning in Memphis after a very surprising but welcome thunderstorm last night; the grass has grown six inches in six hours, I think. I was up at 3 am letting Sadie out, which is very unusual. Sadie is our Pharaoh Hound-mix rescue with the bum leg who is probably the sweetest dog we have ever owned, but for some reason she really had to go outside at 3 am. For obvious reasons that was the preferred alternative among my choices.

Anyway, I was thinking about the proliferation of book descriptions out there on the web these days and how bizarre some of them are, what they mean, what I think they mean, and what they should mean. I decided a ready reference list for my bookies might be useful in helping them judge exactly what condition a book they are interested in might actually be, since so many ‘dealers’ currently out there have no idea what they are doing. An example of my own experience is that a few years ago I bought a box full of John Ringo first editions on Ebay, including the very hard to find Gust Front. The books were described as ‘Like New.’ In fact, however, half of them were ex-library and the others were, at best, Very Good. I was POed. The guy wound up giving me most of my money back and I kept the books, telling him that I considered it fraud, but I really think the guy was some doofus with no idea what he was doing. This list is for you, then, the bookie, the customer who buys books because you love them and expect the ‘dealer’ to be just that, a professional dealer.

Keep in mind, these are not necessarily the terms I use. The ones I do use I will put in bold red letters. So, without further ado, the list:

Brand new– Straight off a bookstore shelf. Might be in publisher’s shrink wrap. Zero flaws. Has not been read, or even leafed through to any great extent. Brand new is not a term I use often, but others seem to use it more than it warrants.

Like new, or as new– Slightly different than Brand new in my mind. Maybe a cover doesn’t lay quite flat, or some other very minor difference, but still a bright, unread and pristine copy.

Very Fine – I do not use this term, but to my mind it is synonymous with ‘Like New’.

FineA traditional term that means a book without flaws, the jacket is bright, the spine is straight, the corners are not bent. It may have been read once, carefully, but the reading did no damage and left no marks. This has traditionally been considered the highest collectible grade, although ‘Like New’ and ‘Brand New’ would obviously be at least as nice. Copies in any of the grades Fine or above should command a premium price.

Near FineNot long ago, this term was not used by established sellers, and it requires a short explanation as to why not. In the days before the internet, the used book business was a fairly small knot of dedicated people, many of whom knew each other. Book searching was a big part of that business, and within such a relatively small community there was a high degree of mutual understanding. The term Near Fine was not used at all because it was not needed. With the advent of the internet, however, it came into common use.

Near Fine means a nice book that would be Fine if not for one small flaw. In a jacket, perhaps there is some light shelfwear (the rubbing that occurs when a book comes in contact with a hard surface, usually another book on a shelf), maybe there is some light soiling. It’s a very attractive copy, just not quite Fine.

Very GoodThe book has been read and shows it. There’s no terrible flaw, the front free endpaper has not been cut out, for example, or the spine is not broken, but neither does the book resemble a Fine copy. Although still a collectible copy, it would not be mistaken for pristine.

GoodNow we come to what is easily the most abused term on the internet. Let’s concentrate first on what Good actually means to booksellers. Simply put, and to borrow the definition of others, “Good ain’t Good.” A ‘Good’ copy is one that is heavily used and shows it. The boards might be worn through in places, there could be a severe spine lean, or it could have heavy water damage. Major flaws are present. It is considered a collectible grade only in the case of ultra-rare books. Find a ‘Good’ condition Shakespeare First Folio while rummaging about in someone’s attic and it will have value. Otherwise, it means a pretty well beat up book, although it may be suited for a reading or research copy.

However, the term ‘Good’ is used quite often by all sorts of hobby sellers these days, and it’s how you can tell someone who knows what they are doing from someone who does not. If, by ‘Good’, the dealer means their copy is a nice one, then you automatically know they are an amateur who has no experience or aptitude for grading books. Maybe their ‘Good’ copy is actually ‘Fine’. Or maybe it’s actually ‘Good’, which ain’t good. Either way, when you see this be dubious of the seller’s ability to accurately convey the condition of a book. Mostly you see this on Amazon and Ebay, where the people don’t know what they are doing.

For example, a few weeks ago I went to a house where the lady had a garage full of books. Boxes and boxes of books. She had bought some inventory from a used bookstore that went out of business and decided she wanted to be a book dealer. The ones in the garage were what was left over after she culled them. I checked them anyway, and found some very nice, very expensive books that she had no idea were valuable, because she had no idea what she was doing. Sure, this benefitted me, and I was glad for it, but it illustrates the larger point that this woman could not even cull her own inventory, so how could she properly describe a book on the internet? More than once I have seen a title that I wanted at a very good price, only to back off when it was described as ‘Good.’ Either the dealer had no idea what ‘Good’ meant, in which case they didn’t know what they were doing and I could not trust their judgment, or the book really was a ‘Good’ copy, in which case I didn’t want it.

Fair Time was, you almost never saw a book described as ‘Fair’, because in bookseller jargon ‘Fair’ means ‘beat to a pulp.’ A ‘Fair’ copy may literally be falling apart. Lately, though, I have seen more of these. All I can tell you is, caveat emptor. A ‘Fair’ book may still be useful for research, or because of some odd association. I recently sold a ‘Fair’ copy of a rare Marine Corps title that was worn out by a recruiting station, but those notes and stamps are what made it valuable to the purchaser. So there is a place for such books, but don’t be mislead. Know what you are buying. ‘Fair’ is not a collectible grade.

PoorIf you need me to tell you what this means, there is probably no point in doing so. But for the sake of completeness, a ‘Poor’ copy is even worse than a ‘Fair’ copy, completely destroyed and good for little except lining your garden before you put down compost. I can’t remember ever listing a ‘Poor’ copy.

Ex-LibraryThis one is tough. An ex-library copy is considered not a collectible grade, by definition. And yet, to some degree I disagree. I have seen some XLs that were never read and were awfully nice. If you collected a given author, say, Robert Crais, and you turned up a nice ex-library copy of Lullaby Town, it would really look nice on a shelf until you could find (or afford) a collectible copy. Yet ex-library copies still have the card pocket, or stamps or other things libraries put in books. Yuck. However, one value in an ex-library copy of a collectible book is the jacket. Very often, the jackets are in nice shape, and if you can get those stickers they insist on putting everywhere off without damage, you can then marry that jacket to another copy that might be collectible but without a jacket.

For instance, I have a copy of Jon Jackson’s hard-to-find first novel, The Diehard, without a jacket. If I could find an XL with a nice jacket, I could then clean that jacket and marry it to my copy. (Note: whenever this is done it must be noted. That is, if the jacket is a substitute. That would read something like this: ‘Fine copy married to Near Fine Jacket.’ If the jacket is not the correct state for the book, that, too, must be noted. That might read: ‘Fine first state copy married to Near Fine second state jacket.’ If you don’t understand ‘states’, we’ll get to that in future blog entries.)

Whew! Hope that helps people. In Part 2 we’ll examine the knuckleheadedness present in today’s bloated internet book buying scene.

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