October 21, 2003

They Sure Don't Make 'Em Like They Used to

Our family copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire--our hardback family copy ofHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire--is in serious disarray. Three huge chunks of the book have fallen out of the binding: pages 53-144, pages 145-340, and pages 341-528.

And the book has not been dropped into the bathtub even once!

Curse you, Scholastic Press! Curse You!

May the curses of Anu, Enlil, and Ea descend upon the Scholastic Press! May Marduk and Sarpanitmn deal justly with those who put insufficient glue into the binding of a book! May the flocks of Scholastic Press be devoured by the lion and the leopard! May the crops of Scholastic Press by devoured by crows! May Utnapishtim the first of scribes turn his countenance from Scholastic Press! And may all their pages have at least one embarrassing typographical error!

UPDATE: The Ten-Year-Old has made a legal proffer. If informed that the statute of limitations is less than nine months, she will confess to having dropped Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into a snowbank in Vail last Christmas vacation.

UPDATE: The Thirteen-Year-Old reports that our replacement copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is in similarly sad shape--and it has never been dropped into either a bathtub or a snowbank.

UPDATE: Ann Marie suggests that all future purchases of books by J.K. Rowling be purchases of the edition with the library binding.

Posted by DeLong at October 21, 2003 05:56 PM | TrackBack


Yeah, curse them for publishing a book you all liked so much you read it through several times. Curse them! The villains!

Here's a hint: Look into the increasingly monopolistic book printing and binding business sometimes. American publishing consists of thousands of publishers contending for the business of fewer and fewer printers and binders. It doesn't give the publishers a lot of leverage, even for bestselling titles like the Potter books.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on October 21, 2003 06:53 PM

Brad DeLong curses:
> May the curses of Anu, Enlil, and Ea descend upon the
> Scholastic Press! May Marduk and Sarpanitmn deal justly
> with those who put insufficient glue into the binding of a
> book!

Given Scholastic Press's recent financial difficulties, the curse of Marduk might just put them over the edge. More seriously, *our* hardcover copy HPaTGoF was printed in the US of A. Why do you hate America so? :-)

That said, while our binding is as cheesy as yours was, it hasn't broken. Yet.

Posted by: Jonathan King on October 21, 2003 06:59 PM

Dude, chill. If you need a copy, I'll send you mine. The books are fun but hardly worth a blown gasket, even in jest. She's getting too verbose, which slows down the pace of the stories.

Posted by: Cal on October 21, 2003 07:23 PM

Dude, chill. If you need a copy, I'll send you mine. The books are fun but hardly worth a blown gasket, even in jest. She's getting too verbose, which slows down the pace of the stories.

Posted by: Cal on October 21, 2003 07:24 PM

My Anglophile daughter has insisted on getting
the UK (Bloomsbury) editions of all the HP books.
They have far better covers, lack Scholastic's
dopey illustrations, and at least for the early
ones lack Scholastic's elimination of British
usage and spelling (#5 seems to have been almost
identical in the two editions).

We've had no binding problems either.

Dave MB

Posted by: David Mix Barrington on October 21, 2003 08:04 PM

I don't suppose the glue binding (so-called "perfect binding") could be made to vanish away, now?

Well, maybe nanotechnology will help...

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on October 21, 2003 10:26 PM

All our copies are fine. Is there a difference between the American and English bindings?

Posted by: Andrew Boucher on October 21, 2003 11:52 PM

The main thing is that there's a difference between the American and English *text*. The American text in general was rewritten to remove any Anglicisms, a very dumb idea (whence the phrase "dumbing down"). They can be ordered from Amazon.co.uk to get the versions that J.K. Rowling wrote.

Posted by: BayMike on October 22, 2003 12:45 AM

Finally a post in this scholarly journal that I feel qualified to comment on wholeheartedly.

I am so disgusted with the quality of hardcover books. I invested in the hardcover Harry Potter books because my kids love it so much and read them over and over. The only one that is still not falling apart with hunks of pages free from the back binding, is the first one, because it is so much smaller. I purchased the first 4 from the American publisher Scholastic and the Goblet of Fire (the thickest) fell apart the fastest. I purchased #5 here in Egypt and it was made by the British publisher Bloomsbury and it is already coming apart too, though the glue on the spine is holding together (no chunks of book falling out yet); but where it's attached to the front covers, it's pulling away from the cardboard. I have, on the other hand, a beautiful hardbound set of the LOTR dating from 1968 (the year I was born) and although the red cloth binding is full of stains and water damage the (sewn) bindings are all intact and 2 of the three of them have not lost their glued-in-the-back maps in spite of EXTREME heavy duty usage over the years (I have the books memorized after reading them from age 10 or so and my 11-year old is on the Return ofthe King right now). They don't make them like they used to, is the understatement of the year. I am going to go back to buying paperbacks. My Roald Dahl series paperbacks are not in any worse shape than those expensive Harry Potter books for being read by kids several times.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo on October 22, 2003 01:48 AM

An American writer had some interesting comments on book bindings in Slate a while back. He suggests that British books are now more likely to fall apart than American ones. But he also claims that some books are almost guaranteed to lose their leaves faster:

From http://slate.msn.com/id/2079769/:

In America, bad books tend to be bad books, paperbacks with stallions and décolletage on the dust jacket and titles like Love's Hot Raging Fury. "In the States, you can more or less assume that if a book is a quality book, it will be built to last," Daunt says. "You cannot assume that if you're dealing with certain British publishers." Daunt names some particular offenders: the Penguin group, Random House U.K., Macmillan. "

Well, no décolletage on the Potter, perhaps. But are you having the same problems with, say, Stiglitz's new book, Brad?

Posted by: manofsteele on October 22, 2003 02:15 AM

A professor, with power and status and prestige, might oh-so-casually drop word of this amongst his/her herd of graduate students. And then one of the professor's children juuuuust might be surprised by a free-will gift from an (in theory) anonmyous donor!!

Win-win. And those graduate students who didn't get the hint will get the message from the market, and improve their performance next semester.

Hypothetically, of course.

Posted by: Barry on October 22, 2003 03:52 AM

Is there a decolletage edition of Stiglitz?

Posted by: C.J.Colucci on October 22, 2003 08:05 AM

This is just the Decline of Western Civilization, part CCCXXXVII or so. Nothing to get all upset about. Recently I bought a couple of little German paperbacks printed around 1955-1965. I've been waiting for these old books to fall apart as per my normal experience with cheap old paperbacks, but it isn't happening.

Posted by: Zizka on October 22, 2003 09:24 AM

I doubt that Stiglitz is getting as much heavy usage as Harry Potter, even in the DeLong household...

Posted by: rvman on October 22, 2003 10:53 AM

This is unpleasantly reminiscent of something I am familiar with in architectural design: the use of materials associated with strength and permanance as veneers.

A solid brick masonry wall is, indeed, one of the most long-lasting kinds of building. Hence brick is often used in institutional buildings to suggest permanance and importance. Problem is, if the brick is mounted on a light steel frame, as it usually is these days, and there's any problem at all managing water on the wall--brick is porous--, the steel will corrode as surely as wood will rot. A huge number of "brick" walls in Canada have failed in the past decade or two.

The same point applies to hardcover books. The hard covers suggest permanence. But unless the hardcover is printed on acid-free paper and assembled with a well-made sewn binding its longevity will be about that of a cheaper paperback edition, though the covers may fare better. The converse, by the way, is that a paperback printed on good paper and made with a sewn binding will have a perfectly respectable lifespan, which I think accounts for your older German paperbacks, Zizka--bet they were made before German binders adopted the glue ("perfect") binding.


Posted by: Randolph Fritz on October 22, 2003 11:11 AM

And, to offer a solution, if publishers got together and created a well-publicized symbol for "book which will last indefinitely with reasonable care", and put it on books which would, this problem might be a thing of the past.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on October 22, 2003 07:04 PM

"Perfect binding" is a nice oxymoron.
The story of printing has mostly been downhill on quality. Copies of Gutenberg's first Bible are still as crisply clear as the day they came off the wine-press,in two colours (the minimum he reckoned to compete with hand-painting for the liturgical market), on rag paper, and hand-sewn bindings. But 50 years later you have cheap and nasty octavos about Vlad the Impaler.

Posted by: James on October 23, 2003 03:25 AM
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