Giving second-hand bargains a new lease of life is one of my favourite things about my language book obsession. For a start, it’s an accessible hobby. Like the books, most of the tools and techniques for book restoration are extremely cheap. Some, like UV disinfection boxes, are less so, but still no longer prohibitively expensive.
Community support is a big factor, too. There’s an almost inexhaustible pool of tips out there. Through scouring the gamut of book-lovers’ websites, Reddits, TikToks and more, I’ve added another few everyday essentials to the book care list.
Trigger warning – there will be a lot of talk about grime here! The upside?
It becomes clear how easy it is to deal with it.
Sometimes you’ll come across a page or two that needs a bit of extra treatment. As with glossy book covers and edges, you can target stains or blemishes with surgical spirit to gently clean and sanitise. But if you need to go a little harder on a page or two, slip a piece of greaseproof paper beneath it. That way, you won’t be too rough on its neighbours as well.
No, art gum isn’t glue, a I thought when I first happened upon it mentioned by a book fixer. It’s actually a very gentle kind of erasing rubber. It’s a popular choice amongst artists as, unlike the school pencil case alternatives, it doesn’t disintegrate with use, and so leaves no grainy residue. That makes it handy not only for rubbing pencil and pen marks from book pages, but also other bits and pieces that shouldn’t be there (food stains, the odd dead fly – seriously, it’s best not to think about what, just how to get rid and forget!).
Art gum barely any more expensive than a standard one either. Faber-Castell do a great malleable version which costs under a fiver.
Freezer Bags (and Freezer!)
OK, a freezer isn’t exactly cheap. That said, of course, it’s pretty likely that there’s already one at home. Freezing a book (in a protective freezer or ziplock bag, of course) may seem a strange course of action. But it’s an excellent way to dry and loosen any grime or residue that’s stuck to pages. Blitz a book with cold, and it’ll only take a blunt knife to dislodge any undesirable blobs. Again, best not to ponder… Just act, and those pages will be as new.
Please don’t let all this talk of mystery stains put you off, though. It’s very rare that you’ll have anything to worry about from the biggest and the best second-hand booksellers out there. It’s just nice to have strategies for the odd stubborn case.
After all, doesn’t every book deserve a second chance?