Loving and Caring for Books

It’s no secret that I love books. And although I happily take advantage of the convenience that e-books can lend, in my mind they’re still no substitute for a real, hard copy book.

Our house has plenty of walls filled with books. My mother likes to say that the last time she mentioned that I should sort through and clear some out because we were running out of space, I looked at her like she’d suggested that I give away my firstborn child. The difference being, of course, that I don’t yet have a firstborn child, while many of these books have been with me for years. As I see it, the answer to running out of space is “build more shelves,” not “get rid of books.”

So yes, I’m very attached to my books.

Beyond that, I was also taught from the time I was little that books should be properly cared for. Books shouldn’t get stepped on, spilled on, or bent. I admit, in an “emergency” I occasionally used unusual temporary bookmarks (up to and including the occasional shoe), but rather than through carelessness, it was because I couldn’t bear to damage pages, even through dog-earing to save my place.

Yes,  accidents happen – especially when you’re carrying the book around everywhere you go. But it pains me whenever a once-new book acquires a damaged cover or wrinkled pages.

I do wonder, though, if maintaining pristine condition is really the best expression of love for a book. Some of my most-loved books are now held together only by cautious handling and duct tape, simply because of the sheer number of times they’ve been read.

And although I certainly have no trouble taking a highlighter and “red pen of doom” to a manuscript I’m editing, it goes against all my instincts to write in a book I’ve purchased, even if only to mark my favorite passages. But I’ve realized that I do love to come across others’ notes and underlined sections in the used books that I buy or check out of the library.

It’s an odd contradiction that I’ve only recently noticed, and I think it may be about time for me to relax some of my ideas about the “proper” treatment of books. If nothing else, maybe I can make someone who comes along after me stop and pay a little more attention to some of the parts I love best.

What about you? How do you care for the books you love? Do you think that appreciation is best expressed by carefully preserving it in good condition, or do you prefer the idea of making a book your own, and see the stains and wrinkles and marks that come with it as only giving the book more character? Does it depend on the type of book?

2 Responses to “Loving and Caring for Books”

  1. The kindest way to treat a book is to read it. Typical of my habit is my re-reading of The Old Man and the Sea this fall. Many of the pages are loose, the first ten or so missing. That book has been with me for some time. So I just began reading. Sarah Lee says, “Why don’t you let me go down and buy you a new copy at Barnes & Noble,” and I said, “Naw. I’ll just read a few pages…” and went on to read the whole thing, keeping loose segments of pages in neat order. I like the feel of a book in my paw. My books are like me: old, beaten-up, and idiosyncratic in their presentation. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  2. emilysather says:

    The kindest way to treat a book is to read it.

    – Mmm. I think that encapsulates the heart of it very well.

    There is something about the specific books that you’ve read and re-read, that just can’t be replaced, even by a new copy that’s exactly the same edition. It’s just not the same old friend, however nice.

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