Thoughts

Front Cover Up or Front Cover Down? The Spine and Cover Battle Post

If The Butter Battle Book had focused on stacking books, the grandfather Yook would have scorned every Zook for stacking his books with the front cover down!

The most conversation I have heard concerning the spine of a book has been BookTubers upset if someone broke the spine of their books. While I would like my books to look as pristine as the day I bought them, I have a more nagging concern. To maximize space, I have to stack my books on my shelves. I have two concerns: a readable spine and a front cover facing up. So, most of my books lie like the ones in the photo below.

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Some of my books cannot be stacked front-cover side up with a right-side up spine. The only way to keep the words in a readable position is lay them front-cover side down. These tend to be my foreign language books and English-translation manga. It also happens with my U.K. editions of Harry Potter.

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I think it is more logical to be able to read the spine when the book is set on the table, but others claim that there is no need to do that if you can see the front cover. Aesthetically-speaking, I like to see the front cover when I lay a book down. It looks better that way, especially for the shelfies I don’t take. Probably due to the climate and paint, I find that books stick to the shelves after a while, as if they were glued or taped down. I worry sometimes that unsticking the books would damage the covers. If that happened, I would rather have damage to the back cover over the front cover.

It appears to be a cultural difference, but I’m curious as to why the books are made this way. I started my search in Andrew Haslam’s Book Design: A Comprehensive Guide. Though the front cover, back cover, and spine were treated as separate sections over the last one hundred years, designers of this century have started to consider all three components as a single cover, allowing greater artistic freedom (Haslam 160). On the spine, Haslam writes that the baseline of the text is “adjacent to the back cover” for European books, noting that some American books had the baseline of the text adjacent to the front cover (162). My books don’t match this description. Considering Haslam’s descriptions does not match with my books, the book design is not a cultural difference.

Why do publishers design books with the baseline adjacent to the front cover? According to online forums, one factor is the regional guidelines. Another factor could be the effect the cover designer wanted.

Maybe the text direction on the spine has nothing to do with the book lying down. It might have to do with a more “natural” way of tilting the head when the book is standing up. My preference for books that read left to right is to tilt my head right. Others might prefer to tilt their heads left. Then again, some of my books have the text in a direction so that I don’t have to tilt my head when they are standing.

Whatever  reasoning the publishers hold for text direction on the spine, I have to put higher priority on being able to read the spine over which side of the book is face up. My sense of order must be satisfied if I need to hunt for a book on my shelves. It takes too much effort to read upside down text on a spine.

Do you have a preference for how you shelve your books? Has a book’s design irked you?

Works Cited

  • Haslam, Andrew. Book Design: A Comprehensive Guide. Abrams, NY: Abrams, 2006. Print.
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3 thoughts on “Front Cover Up or Front Cover Down? The Spine and Cover Battle Post

  1. I don’t really have UK editions of books, so this issue doesn’t affect me, but I could definitely see how it would irk you. I can kind of understand it when it comes to Manga books because those are read “backwards” anyway, but I don’t know why it would be different for UK books!

  2. This is such an interesting discussion! I’ve never really thought of the different ways I can stack my books, except to put as many books I can on my shelf. Usually, I stack them vertically but sometimes, I shelve my books horizontally for more space-saving alternatives. Great discussion; I loved reading this!

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