Omnibuses, Built-in Bookmarks, Deckle Edge: Book Traits I Love/Loathe

My reading has tipped more towards physical books than e-books recently, and my book acquisitions have been getting rather out of hand after some cheeky charity shopping and an influx of review copies. Plus this afternoon we’re off to Bookbarn International, one of my favorite secondhand bookstores, for an evening event – and naturally, we’ll fit in some shopping beforehand. It would be rude not to after traveling all that way.

With all this tempting reading material piling up, I’ve been thinking about some of the traits I most appreciate in books…


Omnibus editions: two to four books for the price of one. What could be better?

Built-in ribbon bookmarks: elegant as well as helpful. I also love how Peirene Press releases come with a matching paper bookmark for every three-book series.

Everything about the hardback edition of Claire Tomalin’s Dickens biography is gorgeous, in fact. I especially love the vintage illustrations on the endpapers and the half-size dustjacket.

Deckle edge is one of my special loves. For the most part it’s unique to American books (over here I’ve heard it complained about as looking “unfinished”), and always makes me think nostalgically about borrowing books from the public library in my parents’ town.

It may sound shallow, but I love these four novels almost as much for their colorful covers as for their contents. (Is it any wonder one of my favorite tags to use on Instagram is #prettycovers?) Several of these covers have raised lettering as well.

The History of Bees is one of the most attractive physical books I’ve acquired recently. The dustjacket has an embossed image; underneath it the book itself is just as striking, with a gold honeycomb pattern. There are also black-and-white bees dotted through the pages.

Colored text blocks (also called sprayed edges) are so unexpected and stylish.


And now for a few physical book traits I’m not as fond of. Perhaps my biggest pet peeve, impossible to photograph, is those matte covers that get permanent fingerprints on them no matter how gingerly you try to handle them.

I wish proof copies didn’t often come in nondescript covers that don’t give a sense of what the finished book will look like. (No ice cream cone on Narcissism for Beginners; no leaping fox on English Animals.) However, keeping in mind that I’m lucky to be reading all these books early, I mustn’t be a greedy so-and-so.

All Fitzcarraldo Editions books are paperbacks with French flaps. Another book I’m reading at the moment, As a God Might Be by Neil Griffiths (from Dodo Ink), also has French flaps. It’s not that I dislike them per se. I just wonder, what’s the point?

(See also two related posts: Books as Objects of Beauty and My (Tiny) Collection of Signed Copies.)

Okay, you opinionated book people: what are your favorite and least favorite book traits?


36 responses

  1. I’m not so fond of the built-in book ribbon, because they are always very frail and easily ripped out. I prefer to have my own paper bookmark (the more colourful the better) – although I do occasionally lose it in bed and wake up with it under my chin… I love the coloured text blocks. I think more books should have them! So elegant! I never realised that deckle-edged is more American than British – I merely assumed old books had them.
    I like a nice, clear typeface, not too small. I didn’t care so much in my youth, but now I prefer not to read those paperbacks with very thin pages and tiny lettering, that try to cram so much of a classic into fewer pages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I only have a handful of books with a built-in bookmark, and they tend to be more reference-type books where holding a place long-term might be helpful. For the most part I, too, prefer to choose a paper bookmark, especially one that in some way seems related to the subject matter of the book.

      I hadn’t thought to mention type. I don’t tend to mind which font or what size it is, as long as the font doesn’t draw attention to itself (that can sometimes be a problem with graphic novels). I don’t read many antiquarian books with the really thin pages anymore.


  2. I, on the other hand, love built-in bookmarks – it just makes a book feel more special. That aside, you have included some beautiful copies of books in this post, Rebecca; reminding me why I do prefer real books to digital versions. I’m also very grateful to you for including the Dickens biography. I’ve been toying with getting this for so long. You’ve convinced me I need to have the hardback!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My Kindle is an extremely useful tool: it’s often the only way I’m able to read advance review copies for American assignments. But I don’t feel like I own the e-books on it, and I can’t engage with it in the same way I do with my print books. (For one thing, I’ve never learned how to highlight passages on it, which is rather ridiculous.)

      I had already read the Dickens biography from the library, but it was such a gorgeous book that my husband bought it for me for Christmas.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I agree there are definitely benefits to the Kindle. (For me, one of those is being able to highlight passages!) But like you, I don’t feel connected to the books stored on it. If I come across something really special, my instinct is to want to buy it again in paper form. (I try to resist but…)

        As for the Dickens, it’s definitely going on my Christmas list. It will be a perfect present!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Argh. I/my sandwich crumbs very often accidentally highlight passages, but I can’t figure out how to do it deliberately!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I am delighted you are coming to the Bookbarn this afternoon! We positively purr when appreciative book bloggers like you visit. You won’t have seen our Darwin Rare Book Room yet, I think, and I’m confident you’ll love it. C U later
    And P.S. You haven’t mentioned their smell as being one of the delights I remember getting from old books. I say ‘remember’ because I lost my power of smell some time ago but still remember that delightful olfactory experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How lovely to hear from you! Yes, I’m coming for the cafe’s Harvest Supper and Scrabble tournament, but hope to arrive in time for a good hour or hour and a half of book shopping before the store closes.

      Indeed, the smell of old books is heavenly. How to describe it I wouldn’t know. I love all paper smells, though, even new textbooks or magazines.


  4. I like an omnibus as long as it isn’t too unwieldy. I dogear (noooo) or put in tiny postit markers in real books but do like highlighting in Kindle. I love French flaps and use them to tuck in and keep my place like the flaps on dustjackets. I love a deckle edge but not so much having to open books that are unopened. I love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Liz! I’m very precious about my books and would never dogear pages or use flaps to mark a place lest the book develop some permanent creases. My books are always chock-full of Post-It flags, though.

      I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever bought an old book that needed the pages cutting. I have a sword-style letter opener that I could use for the purpose!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve not had to open a book for years but I have done it and it’s nerve wracking! I never dog-ear other people’s books, by the way!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. French flaps drive me BERSERK, as does deckle edging (it does look unfinished!) But I love the increasingly slick/colourful/patterned front covers of lots of new fiction releases.

    (The Dickens half-jacket thing drives booksellers mad, btw – they rip so easily when you’re trying to display the books!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspected you’d have strong opinions about such matters 😉 Shame, I hadn’t thought about the problem with the Dickens biog. cover. When I read a library copy I didn’t have to worry about it because of the plastic covers they put on.


  6. Deckle edge and French flaps. I got an education in biblio terms today. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a fun post Rebecca!! I love well-designed books (inside and out) and you have displayed some beautiful ones in your pics. Part of my enjoyment of one of my favorite series, Maisie Dobbs, is because of the book design, although Winspear has changed publishers recently and they must have cut the budget because they’re not quite as awesome as the first few. I do not like Omnibus books – they are often unwieldy and I just like volumes that contain one discreet book. I love fonts and appreciate elegant type faces, not too tiny and not too large, and love when the publisher tells about the font. Also paper makes a difference to me. I like paper with a little textural feel. I recently got a book from the library where the weight of the paper was too heavy and the feel to slick – didn’t feel right and had to take it back!

    I’m with Rebecca Moon – learned some new terms. I do not like deckle edge. Seems harder to turn the pages to me. And I’m reading a book with French flaps (who knew?!) from Europa Editions. I think that’s their standard format. I like the feel of the book, but it’s harder to open flat.

    Do you listen to audiobooks? The production and narration of audiobooks could be another topic for discussion!


    1. I like all paper types and smells: thick and textured; thin and glossy (even magazines smell great!).

      Ah yes, I recall that the one Europa book I read some years back had French flaps.

      I’ve never listened to an audiobook so I would not be the one to write that post, but I’m sure someone else could make an interesting discussion topic out of it 🙂


      1. I could do a post on audiobooks! Makes me wish I had a book blog – my blog is for cooking. 🙂 I am such a slow reader that to read the amount of books I want to, I have to supplement print books with audio. But “have to” makes it look like some sort of chore. Not so! For some books, the audio version adds greatly to the experience, and for others, print is the only way to go.

        I meant to mention that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with “color block”. Perhaps unique to UK or Europe? Anyway, again, thanks for this post. I’ve loved seeing all the comments.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m not sure if color block is unique to U.K. books. These I pulled out all happen to be U.K. releases, and two of them are proof copies, so I don’t know if the finished book would have been the same.


  8. Some beautiful books there! I got the Dickens Tomalin book for Christmas a while back and I couldn’t have been happier.

    My pet hate – any book that describes itself on the cover as ‘hilarious’. I refuse to ever read one!
    I long to go to Bookbarn.


    1. Ha! I don’t pay too much attention to the puffs on book covers. I wonder if any of the books I put on my “laugh out loud” Goodreads shelf have actually been described as such? Humour is so subjective.

      It was our fifth trip to Bookbarn. It’s wonderful to get lost browsing there for an hour or two, and their cafe is excellent. It would be quite the trek for you so you’d want to combine it with some sightseeing in Bath or a weekend in Somerset.


  9. Such a lot to disagree about! One of my pet hates is omnibus editions. I’ll go without reading a book in this format rather than lug three-books-in-one about. I like French flaps: so useful, and also make the book sturdier. I also like book ribbons as I’m incapable of hanging on to book marks. I took two back to the library by mistake only this morning.I end up using something like bus tickets to keep my place. Oh, and Kindle? Nope. Can’t get on with that at all. As I mentioned recently, type face is getting increasingly important. Tiny print rules even books I long to read right out. Oh, and I agree with you about paper smell: old or new, so evocative and inviting.


    1. I wouldn’t take an omnibus traveling with me, but since I’m usually at home it doesn’t seem to matter as much. When I read the George Mikes volume over the span of a few months I’d read one book, then leave my bookmark there to pick up with the next book another time.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love deckle edges too but they make it so hard to find the small metal “book darts” that I mark passages with.

    I especially love covers that show originality: The History of Bees is STUNNING. Another that I can think of off the top of my head is Firmin, which actually had that chunk out of the si

    Great post!


    1. I used to use metal book darts but can’t remember if I have them anymore. Post-It flags serve that purpose for me nowadays. However, I won some plastic arrow page markers last evening so might start using those.

      I hadn’t heard of Firmin before. That’s so neat! Presumably the chunk was only missing from the cover, not the text block?


      1. Oh, no – the text block as well.


      2. Oh wow, that’s quite something!


  11. I like built-in book marks, since I often forget to grab one when starting a book. But very few books seem to have them. I love that copy of the Dicken biography – I’ll have to get that!
    Deckle edges are pretty, but hard to flip through to a spot you’re looking for. The coloured page edges are also pretty. But pretty book covers are the best. That copy of On Beauty is gorgeous. And I think I would be tempted to always have the book jacket off the History of Bees – underneath is so pretty!
    My daughters have been drooling over the new Harry Potter editions that are in the colours of the Hogwarts Houses.


    1. Claire Tomalin is one of my favourite biographers. I’ve only read her Hardy and Dickens biographies so far, but I own the ones of Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen and Nelly Ternan and hope to read one or more of them soon. It’s worth reading this one even if you only have a passing interest in Dickens.

      I always take the dust jacket off and set it aside while reading hardbacks (maybe a subject for another post: quirky reading habits?!), so I did have that design facing me all the time while I was reading History of Bees. It was a little disorienting because there is no title or author name on the spine; it’s just the honeycomb design all the way across. However, it was impossible to forget which book it was because it was bee-related. It just meant that I would occasionally try to open the book upside down 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I own her biography of Thomas Hardy, but would like to read them all. You know… someday. 🙂
        I take the dust jacket off, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. On the other hand, if we were reading ARCs a few decades ago, they’d’ve had those horrid plastic-clippy-coiled things instead of proper spines, so it could be worse, but I do agree: a nice and colourful ARC makes you sit up and take notice because the publisher appears to have placed a different kind of value in its production. Does it make you like it more? Would it be worth increased costs to woo you from the ARC onwards?

    I’m in the camp which loves book ribbons; I’ve even been known to borrow library books which have them, even when I had no previous interest in the book. That seems hyperbolic, but it’s true. I used to love any omnibus edition but now find the print is often too small for comfortable reading, although sometimes I still hanker for them (recently saw that the N.K. Jemisin novels I own in pocketbook are now in omnibus – nice!) and can sometimes deal just fine with the typeface (especially in newer pubs).

    Book jackets used to come off here for reading, too, but in damp weather, they develop a soft crease in the centre of the spine when they’re folded elsewhere, which I couldn’t seem to reverse fully (!), so now I try to read more carefully with them attached. Quite possibly this is weather related and there are a dozen days in a year on which the weather would cooperate with dust jacket removal, but I’m not about to complain about seasons here in Canada, as I love them most of the time (even summer, this year). One could invest in those plastic covers if the books were keepers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only received a couple ARCs that were in plastic bindings. It was oddly like going back to my school days.

      I stick the dust jackets under the bed and they sometimes go a bit curly but eventually flatten out once they’re back on the book and on a shelf.


  13. Annabel (gaskella) | Reply

    Lovely post. I do love a hardback.They may be physically big, but are easier to read with the balance of white space around often larger font-sizes. I also love a good bit of graphic design on a cover – never fails to grab by attention. I never use book ribbons, tucking them into keep them unfrayed! (Didn’t the English Animals ARC have a fox pic on the inside cover? I’ve given my copy away, so can’t check).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (I just checked — there’s half a leaping fox on the inside of the back cover…)

      Liked by 1 person

  14. […] Omnibuses, Built-in Bookmarks, Deckle Edge: Book Traits I Love/Loathe (May 2017) […]


  15. […] in 2017 I wrote a whole post on the physical book features that I love or loathe. It was a good way of eliciting strong opinions […]


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