I hadn’t realized that a belly band was really a sartorial item, reputed to ease lower back pain especially during pregnancy. This band of cloth around the belly puts me in mind of a cummerbund, something I’m more familiar with. I’d always assumed it had something to to with Kummer, German for worries, care, grief: as in “Why is it I’m so fat?”. It doesn’t. It actually comes from the Urdu, Kammar-band meaning a loin band according to The Oxford English Dictionary. They also remind us that a belly band may be found on a horse pulling a cart, on a sail, or a kite.

To me, however, a belly band is a tiny jacket wrapped around a book outside the jacket which is already there — a meaning which the OED doesn’t acknowledge: but then their entry on this word hasn’t been updated since 1887.

Belly bands on books are actually rather a pain in the neck. As a reader do you feel you have to keep the belly band? If so, how to prevent its getting torn or lost? If not, what was the point in the first place? Why do publishers use them? Mostly, I believe, to make the book stand out. But if your reason is just point of sale impact, it’s got to be a big point, a great quote. With the one shown in the picture the publisher took the opportunity to define the title on the back of the belly band — but of course they could have done that more cheaply on the jacket itself.

Maybe you get a quote from the ideal booster at the last minute: though I’m not sure Gyles Brandreth’s words are likely to make anyone buy Christian Bök’s OULIPO-esque tour de force of five pieces each using only one vowel. When you get this rave quote, life being what it is, the book is bound to be bound and already on its way to the warehouse. So we’ll give it a belly band. But that quote’s got to be really good to make a belly band worth doing. Quite apart from designing and printing the band itself, you’ve got to get it onto the books. Touching a book after it’s been delivered to the warehouse is staggeringly expensive these days: let’s say adding a belly band after completion is going to cost you approaching $2 for every copy. Adding one before completion will be less — apart from the trivial printing cost, it’ll only be the cost of wrapping a little second jacket, a matter of pennies. But pennies are pennies and for me at least are wasted in this instance. But then so too is the ribbon marker the publisher has provided. I’d much rather have had these pennies directed towards binding the book in a decent bit of cloth instead of the black paper they chose as case covering material. But then we all have our manias. Perhaps my main point is that my buying decision was not based on any frills like these — I bought it (secondhand and in mint condition) because it was recommended by Al Filreis in his ModPo* MOOC. So for me appearances were irrelevant: I suspect that’s probably true of most Eunoia purchasers.

It’s nice how it looks as if you’re seeing through the belly band to the dropped out vowels on the jacket. You aren’t; the vowels are dropped out of a grey tint on the belly band too. Obviously I was meant to align the thing a bit lower on the book to take my photo.

Despite all my disapproval I have to assume that Canongate knew what they were doing when they gave this book a belly band. I hope it worked — these sort of books have to be published. And if the bells and whistles really helped the books move off the shelves, great.

An unusual vertically aligned belly band may be seen here.

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* See the footnote to this earlier post. A picture of page 30 of Bök’s book may be seen here.