Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I would prefer someone come up with a new form of binding so books lay open flat and effortlessly, rather than feeling as if someone is seemingly implicitly telling me I should also invest in the purchase of a pair of Jaws of Life in order to use them.

The problem with most recent books is that they use a glue-based binding, but the glue seeps into the spine far enough that it makes laying them flat difficult.

However, if you bind it yourself, you can get the desired behavior pretty easily. I have a summary of my process in the footnote of an older comment[0], but I've been able to get it working with hardcover books, and experimented with using a little bit of thread to reinforce the binding. So far, none of my books have come apart and they all lay flat. The problem with this is that you either have to print your own books or remove the binding from existing ones and then rebind them, which is not especially time consuming but not exactly fast either.

I wonder why this style of binding isn't more common? Is it just too expensive or are there durability concerns?


0. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15877525

I find it oddly satisfying and appropriate that in this forum where people are regularly recommended to just write a small program for themselves that solves their specific computer or technology problem, you reply to someone's problem with book construction with a suggestion and help for actually rebinding the book to solve the problem.

Well done. :)

Exactly, the binding is a function of the publisher and there are binding systems that have the behavior the GP is looking for. The rubber binding you've mentioned is fine but it isn't particularly durable (it is how notepads are bound for example.

There is an excellent resource on binding examples here: https://www.designersinsights.com/designer-resources/choosin... which goes over them. But since book binding is literally several hundred years old there are lots of good references.

Sunnyvale used to have an adult education class on book binding that ran during the summer. I still have my class project from that class somewhere (which was a sewn case binding).

All that said, if the paper is stiff then the only lie flat option is spiral or comb binding.

One binding method I rarely see on these types of tutorials is Smyth sewn binding: https://craftschmaft.com/smyth-sewn-book-binding/

It's got the desirable property of being lay-flat (like perfect binding), but also allows you to make a very strong/durable binding. I'm excited to try it for my next project.

So how long would you expect books bound this way to last? I took some pictures of the ones I've made for reference: https://imgur.com/a/60zP8vn . So far, none of them have come apart but I'm pretty careful with my books.

With cheese cloth and library tape? Many years. If there is just the gum on the binding (no tape or linen binding) then a couple of years with light use, less time with heavier use. One of the things that the binding class taught was that books would be rebound several times in their lifetime. I've rebound at least a half dozen paperbacks that eventually started dropping pages (became detached from the binding).

Expense. I can't share a link, but I had helped a friend self-publish, and she eventually ended up going the paperback route. She had the option to have the book bound in a similar way (sewn, not glued) but her out of pocket expense would have been 4x higher. Last I heard, she had recouped her costs, but there's still a case of books left.

It's still not clear from reading your description how this is better works? You're just gluing together the bottom of a whole bunch of pages?

I took some pictures to demonstrate the final product[0]. I am not an expert bookbinder, but it works well enough and is cheap and easy to do by hand. This is the result of tinkering; presumably someone who knows what they're doing could achieve better results.


0. https://imgur.com/a/60zP8vn

I really hate the bindings on most textbooks and technical books that I possess. You pretty much have to break the spines to get them to actually lay flat, and not have the pages turn on you, but if you do that and actually handle the book at all, sheafs of pages start falling out. Spiral binding would be so much better.

If it was just a little bit cheaper to get on-demand printing done, I'd love to get some of my books converted into something like a rugged three-ring binder.

Warning: rant. These terrible bindings you have to fight are a relatively new development. Back in the 80s even mass-market paperbacks, while they didn't open flat, at least were not "perfect bound" (the orwellian term for this cancer on book UX -- OK, I have feelings about books).

When I ordered a new Knuth volume 4A and found it couldn't be comfortably read -- you had to hold this heavy book open firmly at just the right angle or else the text on the inner margin would start to edge into hiding -- it was the last straw. Reading it in bed was an exercise in weightlifting. Even Knuth can't stop this? People can warez e-books instead, you know.

The cloth version of Knuth 4A (Additon Wesley) has real binding which lies flat and has visible inside margins. Are you talking about a paperback?

Some of the worst books I have seen are the print-on-demand ones by Springer. It’s tragic that pretty much all of their math books from the past 10–15 years are only available in this format. Springer used to produce very nice books up through the 1990s.

God, those Springer books are horrid. All the algebraic geometry students in my grad school department had copies of Hartshorne fallen into multiple pieces. One originally got a copy whose pages were printed at about half-size with huge margins around the edges. But my favorite was the person who ordered a Complex Analysis textbook, got a book that said "Complex Analysis" in big letters on the cover, only to open it and find a completely different book.

If you want a readable Springer math book, either buy an old edition from >15 years ago, or pirate an ebook.

Urge your colleagues/teachers to stop publishing their books with Springer.


"""We reported this to Rachel, Heinze and Kölsch. Rachel responded promptly. As regards the material used for the cover, she informed us that

“The word cloth is a semantic term that incorporates many different types of covers, including this one.”

It was illuminating to learn that Springer can no longer tell the difference between cloth and paper. Imagine how much money the new owners of Springer could save if, instead of wearing suits made of cloth, Springer management switched to paper suits; no one at Springer would be able to tell the difference. On rainy days this could pose a problem, but we know that Springer has suppliers with plentiful stores of glue. If Springer repairs its paper suits with the liberal quantities of glue it uses in its books, then board meetings could turn into stiff, uncomfortable affairs. """

It's a hardcover, iirc from the year it came out. The paper and typography were fine, but the difference in binding is really obvious next to the volumes printed in, say, the 80s. I don't know just when it changed.

Nice to hear that a better version is available. I wish the online listings made it clearer what you'd get.

It’s possible the ones from the 80s are nicer, I don’t have one of those. The modern one seems acceptable to me, but maybe my standards have gotten weak in the face of many truly atrocious modern books.

I took a couple textbooks to my local copy shop – Kinkos back then – and had them cut off the spine and hole punch the pages. Placed them into a 3-ring binder.

Only for books you're keeping I suppose. Or maybe you could re-sell directly.

We have a binding machine in my office. I use that for our technical and procedural documents. It's more compact than a binder, and you can still slip plastic covers around it to protect the contents when put away. Updates require a bit more effort to insert but I've found that it's not too annoying.

You have to dig, but I know for a fact that all the Pearson published textbooks I have needed are avaliable in a 3 ring binder form. The search term you are looking for is "loose-leaf edition". I hate Pearson with every atom of my being, but that is at least one nice thing I can say for the company.

I remember when many technical books were spiral bound. Ah, Tandy computer documentation, how I miss you.

Also the C-64 reference manual. What a gem that was.


Yes. I've felt this way since reading thick science fiction paperbacks as a kid. It's a pain to hold these things open for hours at a time. And, making matters worse, these paperbacks were printed in small fonts. It's no surprise I've had glasses since I was 12.

As to bindings, I've always been a fan of spiral bound books.

There's also the Japanese style of printing shorter books in multiple volumes (at least I think this is the case - correct me if I'm wrong).

Given my aversion to paper-based reading, I've enjoyed using my Kindle, smartphone, and tablet to read. However, now there's two more problems. First, my smartphone is a constant source of distraction (calls, texts, work emails, personal emails, app notifications, etc.). Second, it feels like I spend the majority of my waking life looking at either a computer screen, a smartphone screen, or a Kindle screen -- it's kind of unsettling.

> It's no surprise I've had glasses since I was 12.

You might have been facetious, but FYI, the favored theory for the cause of normal myopia is insufficient UV light exposure during childhood. Eyestrain and close focal distance are not thought to produce it even though the latter is correlated with low UV light from being indoors.

I guess you mean most favored theory by you? I do not find UV exposure to be a consensus opinion after a brief glance at the subject.

There is at least some support for myopia being associated with close focal distance activities, as mentioned in this meta analysis:


No, I was going based off my memory of this 2015 article, which summarizes the evidence and expert opinions:


In particular, my article discusses randomized experiments and the opinion of multiple disagreeing experts. Your article (also from 2015) is a meta analysis of observational studies on the correlation between near work and myopia, not the overall question of myopia origins. As far as I can tell, I don't think they try to test whether light exposure is the underlying cause, nor does you article claim represent the opinions of anyone besides the three authors.

I welcome links to more recent and comprehensive reviews, though. I definitely don't think this case has been closed.

This is why I switched to a Kindle. I can comfortably hold it in either hand without having to pry the pages open.

Same. I have a big protective cover for my Kobo that when opened doubles as a stand. So I don't even need to hold it. I keep my hands warm and only use them to change page.

Spiral binding is the solution, but it looks ugly, there is no spine area anymore and the pages rip out more easily. Good for technical manuals, less so for fiction.

I do actually have a few 'publishers proof manuscript' (presumably for pre-press copy editing and review) spiral bound copies of books that I found in a second-hand shop, and although easy to read, the pages got crumpled and torn very quickly when I transported them in my backpack.

Can’t effectively stack them.

It was invented long ago. Section sewn or case binding allows a book to lay flat. It is considerably more expensive than other methods, though.

lie flat

Lay is a transitive verb, it requires an object e.g. he lays a book open.

Lie is intransitive e.g the book lies open.

Wow, I'm usually the one correcting grammar. Good catch!

There have been several of these already. Paperbacks where the spine is not glued to the perfect binding. O'Riley used one such technology at one point (RepKover, by Otabind—not sure if it still does). But it is quite a step more expensive. I'm not sure whether the sales are worth it.

We already have that and most paper notebooks have that feature: spiral- or circular-bound pages.

Smyth-sewn bindings lay flat.

one of the pictures in the article certainly makes it look like the books are willing to lie flat, with just a little effort.

(i was expecting this article to be someone reposting an NY Times article from the introduction of mass market paperbacks, and forgetting to put a date on it.)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact