Writing Gear Review
An Open Book, Part 1
Authors and academics alike have a particular set of skills when it comes to handling the written word, but we also often need a particular range of tools in order to do so effectively. In this post, I’m going to review one of those tools. Please note: there are no partner/affiliate links in this post, and this isn’t sponsored content. This is just me telling you I’ve got 99 problems with writing and I’m trying to solve just one of them.
Consider the problem: you want to take notes on a long passage from a book, and you have to figure out how to hold the book’s pages open to the passage at hand so that you can write out your thoughts.
What’s your method?
Here are some methods I have used:
Hold open the book with other books.
This really only works when I am annotating a slim hardback volume and have some heavier and much larger books available. It’s hard to prop open the pages of a thick paperback that is lying flat on the desk. Whatever books I use to weight down the margins of, say, Middlemarch are pitched at a fairly steep angle, and gravity tempts them to slide off as much as it helps them to press down.
Hold open the book with a stone coaster.
Again, this only works for slim, flexible books. A Thirstystone is no match for the stitched signatures of a hardback with just a 1” spine.
Hold open the book with the edge of my coffee mug, with or without the coaster.
A risky proposition. Don’t do this with nice books. Don’t do this with nice coffee mugs. And for heaven’s sake, don’t do this with good coffee.
Prop the edge of my laptop on the left margin of the book and let the right margin hang over the edge of the desk.
The idea here is that gravity will help me by pulling the book open while I frantically type, peeking over my right elbow to see the words on the page before the whole book slides to the floor.
Use an iron doorstop.
Seriously, I have done this. But when the book you’re annotating is itself a doorstop, you have that problem of precarious balance to deal with if you’re trying to hold down the edges of the page. And of course anything you plop down atop the middle of an open passage will obscure your view, and you will need to repeatedly reposition your doorstop to see what you’re trying to write about.
All of the above solutions only work, when they work at all, if your book is lying flat on the desk.
What if you want to give your back a break and prop the book up on a stand?
In the past, I’ve tried the book-on-books solution to hold open the pages of a book on my book stand. Basically, you have to accommodate three books on the book stand: the book you’re copying from in the center, and then a closed book holding down the leaves on each side. It’s a bulky and inelegant semi-solution.
For years, I have looked longingly at the beautiful leather-clad book weights in the Levenger catalog, always imagining that they were just the thing I needed while hesitating to spend the money it would cost me to find out.
Finally, recently, I decided to test out a Levenger-like book weight for use on my book stand.
I ordered this Super Essentials Bookmark/Weight-Page (or whatever version they were selling of this item a month ago), which seemed promising to me because it weighs twice as much as the Levenger weight and seemed to boast a similar design.
The Super Essentials bookweight is a dumb-bell shaped contraption, enclosing and connecting two disc-shaped weights in a silicone sheath.
Here’s what I can say about this book weight: it’s better than all my previous solutions. It works okay on not-so-thick books with very thin pages, but for thick books on the bookstand it’s a no-go, because there’s not enough room on the book stand’s ledge to save the book weight from having to fight gravity while it also fights the force of the book’s stitching pulling the pages closed.
This is a basic problem of physics. In order to keep from obscuring a large portion of the text, a book weight must be compact. It can’t distribute its force over the entire surface area of the page, because that would hide the page. So it has to be very heavy, but only somewhat selectively, spreading the weight it does have over as much of the page as practicable without hiding the print.
This weight is not heavy enough, and it’s a little too selective. The silicone bar linking the two halves of the book weight is flexible, even floppy. Instead of buttressing and distributuing the force of the two weight disks across the whole bottom of the book, the linking bar yields easily to the natural pull of the binding to close the book’s covers.
With a book lying flat on the desk, the Super Essentials book weight fares better…but only a little. That flaccid connecting bar does this book weight no favors. I don’t know how the leather-clad Levenger weight compares, but I’m guessing it works better than this less elegant knockoff.
However, if you take your elegance with a bit of futuristic flair, I may have found a workable, affordable alternative. Stay tuned…