BookGem book holderReview date: 28 June 2003.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Clothes pegs. Bulldog clips. Drinking glasses. Toes (generally un-severed).
All of these things, and many more, have been pressed into service to keep books open when people couldn't keep their hands on them.
Big hardbacks stay open by themselves, and so do ring-bound cookbooks and technical publications and such, but your ordinary small-to-medium-sized book will flip shut as soon as you let it go. Smashing books flat isn't good for the binding, and even that won't work for most paperbacks.
Here's a better way.
The BookGem is a thing for holding books open - and upright, if necessary.
The basic idea of a book-clamp seems obvious enough, but you try making something that can be reasonably easily clipped onto books of various sizes without mangling the little ones or being too small for the big ones. And then, try to figure out a way to make it easy to turn pages.
If you manage to come up with something that works, I think there's a good chance you'll be infringing the BookGem patent.
The front of the BookGem has the clamp assembly, of which more in a moment, and the back has a couple of fold-out legs that overlap in glasses-frame style.
There's also a little fold-down shelf, which rests against the book.
The whole BookGem weighs a bit less than 107 grams (about 3.75 ounces).
The clamp mechanism is the clever part. It hinges in the middle with a firm but not painfully strong spring, and each half of the clamp can move independently. This lets it easily hold a lot of book on one side and a little bit on the other, and it also makes the BookGem quite insensitive to its exact position - you don't have to perfectly centre the book.
You can attach the BookGem to the top or the bottom of a book, and it can accommodate quite large works. Pretty much anything that's not so big that it'll stay open by itself, in fact.
In theory, you can cram about five centimetres (a couple of inches) of book between each clamp and the backplate. In reality, a book that hefty won't fit terribly well. But the vast majority of books will fit just fine.
The clamps and the backplate of the BookGem both have green rubber pads, to protect the book; the fold-out legs have rubber tips, for traction.
When the BookGem's on the top of a book, the legs act as props. This is the cookbook, technical manual and bathroom-floor configuration, for people who are for whatever reason looking down on their reading matter. It can also work well for reading in bed, with the legs propped up on your legs.
When the BookGem's on the bottom of a book, the legs work as a stand, and the book sits on the fold-down shelf. This is the usual standalone setup if you want to sit the book on a table.
You should still fold the support shelf down even if you're attaching the BookGem to the top of a book, because the shelf has a slot in the middle of it with grip-ridges on the inside, which make it easy to operate the clamps. You put the thumb of the appropriate hand on the ridges and work the clamp for that side with the side of your index finger, and surprisingly little effort's needed.
There are foot-tabs sticking down from the back of the BookGem as well; you can push against those when operating the clamps, if it's more convenient.
If you're arthritic or otherwise manually handicapped then you may have trouble working the BookGem, and someone particularly unfortunate might just possibly manage to make a clamp snap shut on their finger. But the BookGem seems to me to be about as ergonomically effective as any such gadget could be.
You can also fold away one or both of the legs, if you like. With one leg folded, you can easily prop the BookGem up on a cushion and use it sideways.
And then, there's page-turning.
There's no way to firmly clamp a book and make its pages available for turning - well, not without rather fancier hardware than the BookGem, anyway. The BookGem gets around this problem with a couple of simple page-holding slots on the top of the clamps. You loosen the clamp on the not-yet-read side of the book, you lift twenty-odd pages, you tuck them into the slot on that side, and you read. When you finish each page, you lift it from the slot, and tuck it into the slot on the other side. When you finish all twenty or so, you clamp the read pages down and start the process again.
This isn't perfectly elegant; pages in the slots don't quite sit flat, and it's a bit fiddly at first. But it works, and it's quite easy to get used to.
The BookGem claim of compatibility with "small to medium" books is a fair one. The gadget works with magazines as well, provided they're very thick, or you put a book behind them to provide support.
Trade paperback comics? No problem.
Well, no mechanical problem. If you're reading something, like a comic, that doesn't have much or any whitespace at the top or the bottom of the pages, the BookGem clamps will get in the way.
This is a pretty minor niggle, but it's the only real complaint I've got about the BookGem. It'd be nice if the thing somehow magically self-centred and made it impossible for you to tuck pages under the clamps inaccurately, but a small amount of practice deals with those problems, and that's really about as bad as it gets.
Compared with every other idea I've come up with for keeping books open without using at least one hand, the BookGem wins by a mile.
The BookGem sells for $US19.99, plus shipping. Any number of BookGems cost $US3 to deliver within the USA; shipping to Canada is $US5 and to everywhere else (via air mail) is $US7.
So the BookGem isn't dirt cheap, but it's not terribly expensive, for what you get. It's well designed, solidly made, and seems likely to last a very long time.
The BookGem's a great product for anybody who does a lot of reading - recreationally or professionally. In bed, on the couch, in the kitchen, under the car; the thing performs as advertised.
One day, perhaps, the paper book will be superseded by some high-tech replacement that gets around current "e-book reader" problems (high price, fragility, weight, battery life). Paper's going to be with us for a while yet, though, and the BookGem makes it more manageable. Recommended.
Review BookGem kindly provided by BookGem.