Box cutters have been on my mind lately. First of all, I’m reading Near Enemy, Adam Sternbergh’s fine follow-up to his superb debut, Shovel Ready, in which series antihero Spademan is a killer for hire. His weapon of choice: a box cutter. More conventional weapons are in short supply in Spademan’s world—a postapocalyptic New York in which Times Square has been leveled by a dirty bomb—but even so, he finds the box cutter easy to transport and quite versatile for slashing soft tissue.
Of course, box cutters aren’t just homicide weapons; they also play an important role in the daily life of a book review magazine. There’s just no other good way to open the dozens of book bags we receive in the mail every day—and open them without getting that icky gray gunk all over yourself in the process. But if you really want to know about box cutters and the art of opening book bags, you need to talk to our hard-working editorial assistants and interns, who do most of the box-cutter wielding around here. Fortunately, one of them, former intern and talented writer Amye Day Ong, took the time to document the process in “The Word and Its Afterlife,” published in The Common. This tongue-in-cheek look at opening the mail at Booklist takes the seemingly untenable position that box cutters are often more trouble than they’re worth—unless, of course, the package being opened happens to be the dreaded Jiffy Padded envelope, with its evil little red tab “for simple opening.” Amye tells us right out: “That last part is a lie.” A lie so blatant that often the Booklist intern must resort to frenzied slashing with her box cutter, knowing full well that the gray gunk (or, as Amye calls it, a “film of dead trees”) will soon fill the air.
In more than 30 years at Booklist, I had never been asked if we had a first-aid kit until one day last week (we don’t , but one of the more high-risk ALA divisions downstairs does). Take one guess why we needed emergency first aid. A new intern, probably unprepared for the rigors of a Jiffy Padded envelope, slashed herself with a box cutter.