Friday, October 24, 2008

Read 'em and Weep

by Barbara D'Amato


Putting aside the book I was reading face down, splayed open to hold my place, I got up to go make coffee. My friend said, “You shouldn’t treat a book like that.” I didn’t snap back that it was my book, bought and paid for, to handle as I wished, but I did ask why.

“Because you’ll crack the spine.”

Well, now, I buy books to read. I dog-ear them, as well as crack spines. Sometimes coffee spills on them. Sometimes I sticker passages I need to find later. Sometimes I even bracket paragraphs in pencil.

I have friends who treat their books with great care. It’s their choice, but they remind me of a friend of mine who traveled on business a lot and had the idea he needed to look good when he was traveling. When I’m traveling the look I aim for is Don’t Mess with Me. He had a set of matched luggage made, something extra wonderful, covered in kangaroo hide. On his first trip with the new luggage, he discovered that he cringed when the suitcases bumped down the luggage carousel or when a child playing tag in the airport lounge crashed into them. So he ordered zip-on canvas covers made for them. Now he was traveling with dreary-looking canvas luggage.

I love my books. But I don’t want to be preoccupied with their physical welfare. I pretty much love some of them to death.

Books are meant for reading. Of course if I owned a signed first edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, I wouldn’t crack the spine. But I wouldn’t read it, either. It would live on a shelf, wrapped in archival paper.

Many years ago, two author friends and I and a bookstore owner appeared on a local television show. The interviewer said to the bookstore owner, “You obviously like your books so much. Aren’t you sad to sell them?” The bookstore owner was nonplussed just for a second and then said, “Well, they can always print more.”

How do you read your books? You can snarl at my bad habits if you want.

16 comments:

the Bag Lady said...

I love my books to death, too! I have even occasionally drowned one by falling asleep whilst reading in the tub.... :)

Corey Wilde said...

You should see my copy of McDonald's 'Toros & Torsos.' Highlighted passages, notes (in ink) in the margins, dogeared pages, and naturally the spine is cracked. Possibly beer stains as well. The books I love, they show it. My Travis McGees look pathetic.

Dana King said...

I'm with you, Barbara. I don't deliberately abuse a book, and I love books, but it's the words I truly love; the book itself it just the medium of transmission. I cherish my books the same way I cherished my raggy blankie when I was two: no matter how tattered, if it still serves the purpose of showing the words, I'm good with it.

Maryann Mercer said...

Some of my favorite books are so wrinkled they could use an injection of botox but I still re-read them and then lovingly put them back with their peers. Books shouldn't be abused (ripped apart, dumped in the garbage, etc)but they need to be used, and that means wear and tear of some sort, be it notes, folds, or other individual quirks. If you see a pristine book on my shelves, it's probably one I haven't read or don't like (and haven't donated yet)...even my signed copies are "used" :o) Read on, Barb. Your book know you care.

Judy Alter said...

I often underline important passages, etc., but am now a bit dismayed to learn that the copy of Larry McMurtry's essays, In a Narrow Grave, that I underlined, marked up, wrote notes in, etc., would be a collector's item if I hadn't done all that.

TypewriterStreaming said...

As a child my neighbor gifted me with a set of 5 paperback books by Charles Dickens. This was a novelty to me - there wasn't money for books back then and my parents did not like the Library. My European mother (not knowing the neighbor had received these from a cereal box offer and were new) admired the books condition - perfect spine - perfect condition- She decided to let me know how very neat and clean the daughter of our neighbor was - believing the books to be second hand. The put downs I received that day so influenced me I never read the books. Try as I might - peering through barely open covers, I couldn't help but crack the spine. I recall to this day how utterly sad and frustrated I was. I never again tried reading another book outside of assigned school work until my adulthood. Go ahead, read your books, crack the spines, dog ear the pages, anything you like, just enjoy the freedom of reading those words.

Picks By Pat said...

Unless it's a first edition, I don't worry too much about spilling coffee on a page, or folding a corner over to use as an instant bookmark. I often donate them after I've read them, so I don't abuse them. But they're not fragile relics, like a fabrege egg.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of us were taught as children to respect books. Since these books in question were usually school library books, of course they should be treated with due respect and care.
For me, I do tend to treat my books with a sort of reverence. I feel bad if I inadvertently fold a page or crack the spine, or even if a book gets knocked around. Yes, there are a few books I can think of in my possession that I've marked and highlighted, etc...but in retrospect, how I treat my books must just be a carry-over from the times when books were not my personal property.

ab said...

I have old trade copies that I've read until they fell apart by themselves, without my having to crack their spines. The pages just started to fall out! I taped them together - bad idea, it doesn't last. Now I have rubber bands around them.

*Sigh* - will my grandkid ever be able to read them without missing pages...? They are out of print by now...

ab said...

Off topic, sorry ....

but what will you Chicagoans do Election night? Is there a big brouhaha in town? I can imagine the party in the streets if Obama wins!

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thank you, everybody. We also have a view in our house, now shared by my granddaughter, that the way to find the best ccokbook on our shelf is look for the one with the dirty cover, and with the pages hanging out.

Ab--I'm wondering too.

edired said...

I do used book sales for libraries - so - sorry guys - If a book is something you cling to and don't want to pass around for others to enjoy go ahead and spindle fold and mutilate . I no longer cling to books -read and send on . I have ancient "ACE DOUBLE BOOKS " that are only chidren . Some would never be missed but!!! some are small gems to be found nowhere else . Reading is a joy to share . Hoarding for shame .

Libby Hellmann said...

Election Night: The Obama campaign is hosting a party in Grant Park Tuesday evening.... If you're going, try to take public transportation. It's going to be huge!

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thanks for the info, Libby.

ab said...

Thanks, Libby! I've been searching online, but couldn't find anything.

Katie Bell Moore said...

I'm a librarian and I am a terrible corner-folder...(hangs head in shame). However, I did once chastise the person sitting across from me in the hot tub at the gym, reading a book that was clearly from a library.