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Frozen Books

April 17, 2014 | by

wet books richard cubitt

Wet Books, Richard Cubitt

Someone has posted the following to Reddit:

My roommate gets distracted sometimes, and she misplaced her book in the freezer. I’m not making this up.

The pages are warped from moisture and most of them are frozen solid in a block.

How can we save the book?

Thanks!

Cue the Fahrenheit 451 jokes—lots of them. But there were also plenty of practical tips to help the poster with his or her wacky dilemma. These include (but are not limited to) blotting the pages with paper towels and/or rice; allowing the book to dry in a cool room so as to slow melting; rubbing the paper with vinegar to prevent mildew; and, if all else fails and the poster deems the book worth it, investing in a vacuum pump and creating an at-home distiller.

As one knowledgeable person explained,

This is how books are salvaged from flooding on a commercial scale. They are frozen in the short run (with industrial freezers, if needs be, such as if a pipe breaks in a library), and stuffed into freeze driers which operate on a vacuum principle: the water sublimes, going straight from solid to vapor, while the book is still frozen, preventing any significant microbial growth if done correctly.

I can’t pretend to have ever forgotten a book in the freezer, but time was, I often left books out overnight in my family’s yard, and found them warped and damp with dew or rain. Plenty of them are warped to this day, but a great aid in such cases was the old book press my dad picked up at a tag sale when I was about twelve. These devices—ours was made of wood and had a black metal crank—are used by those who deal with rare books, but believe me, they work just as well (if not better) with the paperback copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase you picked up at the local library sale.

I have nothing against the occasional e-book. And I certainly understand the beauty and dignity of an exquisite edition, and the pleasure of filling your shelves with volumes in pristine condition. But personally—because I am hard on objects, and I lug reading material wherever I go, and, yesterday, I discovered that a Clinique Chubby Stick had come uncapped in my tote and stained everything with “Pudgy Peony”—I love physical volumes for their sheer durability. I like that a book can live through coffee spills and tears (both kinds) and ballpoint pens and, if necessary, the occasional smashed Cadbury Creme Egg, forgotten at the bottom of one’s bag.

I don’t think I’d go so far as the poster who suggested, “You could get some used $.50 books and try a few different methods while keeping the important book frozen.” But I like that the possibility exists. As long as books survive in paper and ink, it will be partly because they can also be just this side of disposable—because some will be found, and end up, on a neighbor’s stoop, or at the local thrift store. Because some deserve to.

That said, if anyone knows how to extract moisturizing lip gloss from the pages of a library book, I would very much like to know.

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