Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Way to Treat Your Books

Any person who is a relatively serious reader knows that there is only one way to treat a book. But a problem arises when no one can agree on what that way is.

In the past months, I've learned some interesting things about the various approaches my friends and family members take to the act of reading. Take, for example, my mother. When she gave me my birthday presents, she discovered that she had accidentally left a price tag on a book. She hastened to remove it, though I told her the price didn't matter because I love a good book deal. But she responded in a way I didn't expect: "I hate when there's a sticker on a book."

I've known my mother quite awhile now--all of my life and half of hers, to be precise. And yet, I never could have told you that she has this quirk. Only a few days earlier, a similar situation had arisen with my father, who took pains to explain that the crease on the cover of a book he'd borrowed from me was not his fault--a charge I hadn't made against him in the first place, as it happens. That's when he informed me that he strives to treat my books with care because they are mine and not his.

While I appreciate the consideration, I was a little surprised by this information. I'm not overly gentle with my books in general. If a spine cracks, I don't get upset. Although I use bookmarks much more frequently now, I used to dog-ear pages all the time, particularly in college and grad school, when I wanted to leave myself visual clues as to the amount of reading I had left to do. I don't know how many books I've highlighted over the years, and not always for class; sometimes I do it to revel in the brilliant turns of phrase I've found.

My friend Sharon, on the other hand, is one of those people who can't stand the plight of "mistreated" books. She made a Facebook post awhile back about a particular moment on Gilmore Girls, writing, "This episode is why I hate Jess. He steals Rory's book and THEN WRITES IN IT. WHO DOES THAT CRAP? THAT'S NOT HOW YOU TREAT BOOKS, YOU HEATHEN! ESPECIALLY SOMEONE ELSE'S BOOK."

This rant of hers led to over twenty comments from various people. While I concede that it's rude to write in a book that isn't yours without permission from the owner, I disagree that the act of writing itself is unacceptable. As I pointed out to Sharon, making notes, underlining, and highlighting passages is normal behavior among scholars and (certain) book people.

I suppose the adage, "Different strokes for different folks" applies here. In my case, I'm less inclined to mark up a book that is rare or vintage, and for reasons unknown, I am averse to highlighting hardcovers. Meanwhile, you will never catch Sharon doing any perceived harm to a volume. And these are simply two different ways of showing appreciation for the words you're consuming.


PS The images intersperse throughout the text are photos of my own copy of Fahrenheit 451, which I have had for approximately 15 years. With each re-reading, the spine weakens a little more and I fall in love with a new line or paragraph. Someday, it will succumb to the ravages of time and use, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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