“Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx

We’ve all heard that you should never judge a book by its cover. Which is fine, because this week we will be judging books by their words – specifically, the words used in the book publishing business.

Let’s start (without being judgmental) with a quick look at the cover, on which generally appear the book’s title, the name of the author and sometimes a picture. The cover also often includes a “blurb” about the book, a term that was coined by humorist Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) in 1907 for the cover of his book “Are You a Bromide?” (a trite idea or remark). Burgess attributed the word to an alliterative Miss Belinda Blurb and defined it as “a flamboyant advertisement, an inspired testimonial.”

Between the covers, books consist of three basic sections: front matter, the body, and back matter. Front matter usually consists of the title page, which has the author’s name as well as the book’s title and subtitle, and the copyright page, on which is listed the work’s copyright information, and its ISBN (international standard book number). This number also appears in the bar code on the cover.

Further front matter can include the dedication page, if the book is dedicated to somebody, as well as the table of contents, which lists everything in all three basic sections. There is also the foreword, which introduces the book and is written by someone other than the author. For example, I was fortunate enough to have prominent British cycling commentator Phil Liggett write the foreword for a book I wrote about the Tour de France.

Remember, that’s “foreword,” not “forward.” In 2009 even The New York Times had to correct an article about the 50th anniversary of “The Elements of Style,” saying “(Roger Angell) wrote the foreword not the ‘forward,’” reminding us “As the Times stylebook notes, a ‘foreword’ is the word before chapter 1.”


The last part of the front matter is usually the preface, which is an explanatory letter by the author and segues into the introduction of a nonfiction book or the prologue of a novel, both of which are the first parts of a book’s second basic section, its body.

The body, which usually includes the book’s parts and chapters, generally makes up most of its pages. “Recto” and “verso” are, respectively, the names for the right and left pages of an open book, with “verso” coming from the Latin “in verso folio” (on the turned leaf). “Folio” is a leaf, which is part of a book containing a page on each side. Between those pages is the shallow center trough called the gutter, And on the opposite side of the page from the gutter, is its fore edge, which is simply the edge of a book or illustration that’s opposite the backbone.

It’s likely the book is printed in one or more of the three major Western typefaces: Gothic, Roman and italics, which were first used all together by Venetian printer Aldus Manulius when he printed a work of Virgil in 1501. Thanks to technology, the monospaced kerning of typewriters (in which fat letters and skinny letters took up the same amount of space) is no longer a problem.

The third and final basic section of a book is the back matter, which can contain endnotes, or comments on parts of the book, a bibliography of the sources, and a glossary of terms as well as an index. And that’s the end of this chapter on books.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at jlwitherell19@gmail.com.

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