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Musing: On keeping books in good condition

Kristina Pino3 Comments
Yesterday, I had a dream in which I'd lent out a book to a friend, and received it back all dog-eared, creased, my friend having folded the pages as they went through the book. I was horrified in my dream, and felt like the book had been irreversibly damaged. But when I woke up, I thought about it some more. Is it really a big deal? Books, like clothing or anything else, are made to be used (and read). I don't despair when my clothing is wrinkled or my shoes scuffed, but it's always this tragedy whenever one of my books suffers a stain, peeling of the cover, or anything else.

I take good care of my books and always use bookmarks instead of folding the pages. This wasn't always so -- when I was younger and in middle school, I folded pages to mark my place in books all the time. I don't know what changed from then until now, just that it was gradual. In high school I would pick and choose. If it was an old book, I'd mark it. If it was a text book or something I purchased for my own enjoyment, it wasn't marked. If it was a book I had to buy for class, it got hi-lighted and written on all over with notes.

By the time I got into college though, I stopped marking books unless it was class-related. And then I had this great teacher in one of my anthropology classes who retired a year before I graduated. During one of his classes, he took out his battered copy of  a book we were reading for the course, which had pages disconnected from the spine, notes all over, hi-lighter marks, pages folded -- the works. When he took out his book (in pieces, as it'd also broken in half), he said that one hasn't ever fully appreciated a book until they've wrecked it (paraphrased). In his opinion, you haven't completely owned all the information the book had to offer if you didn't pull it apart with use, write notes all over it, and marked the most important lines. He also would read off what we should hi-light in our own copies, and what his own notes were scribbled in his copy for us to write all over ours, too.

At the end of that course, all our coursebooks looked very much like his, without the whole broken in half part. They were all written in, worn out, marked, folded, and colorfully hi-lighted. There was some satisfaction in that. Treating school books in this way didn't devastate me in the same way as if I'd done it to one of my books for reading at home. But then again, what makes "literature" or otherwise books we read for fun any more special?

I have no idea. I've been considering experimenting with this -- picking a book that I want to read for my own enjoyment, and scribble notes all over it and mark the pages to see what happens. Would it bother me? That's a post for another day (once I've actually tried it). Maybe it'll be liberating.

I asked Twitter about this earlier, and the general response I got was that folks try their best to keep their books in great or pristine condition. More than one person said spine cracks happen -- something that doesn't bother me, either. There are plenty of books in my collection that have messed up spines from reading or re-reading. I've always viewed it as a natural effect. The other stuff, though, seems to be a universal "no." Use bookmarks, keep the pens and pencils off, keep the dust covers on, all that.

While I'll probably keep on treating my books as well as I can, I question whether there really is a point. A book isn't a holy object nor something to be revered; it's the content itself that makes it special. Feel free to weigh in.