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Rachel Cooke presents an ode to good book design in the Observer, which also discusses the different ways in which we treat books. It's been a while since I read Anne Fadiman's delightful Ex Libris, but Cooke has reminded me of Fadiman's distinction between the different sorts of bibliophiles - those who are "courtly" or "carnal" book lovers. And I am, as anyone who's asked to borrow a book knows, a courtly book lover.

I look after books. It causes me genuine pain to crack a spine or crease a cover. I mean, I read A Suitable Boy without cracking the spine. Whether it's likely to rain or not, I keep a plastic bag in non-waterproof bags to protect books from water damage (I seriously can't bear to read wobbly water damaged books - the awful creaking of the pages!). Of course, I don't think everyone should keep to these freakish standards - unless I lend them a book. I make it very clear if I lend someone a book that I expect the lendee to look after it, and I can think of few ruder things than to treat someone else's book in a way in which they would not treat it themselves.

I don't give a shit if you crack your own books' spines or bend back the cover or write all over them or throw them down the stairs. But if you borrow my books, you look after them. Or you can replace them. And no, I'm not joking. I think if you borrow anything, from a saucepan to a pair of shoes, you treat them not as you treat your own stuff, but as the owner of the borrowed items treats hers. And yes, that goes even if you think the owner is anal or weird. I once loaned someone a book who returned to me a creased, water-rumpled mess without a word of apology. I can't imagine she'd have behaved the same way if I'd loaned her a top and she'd given it back to me in rags.

Is it anal? Yes. Is it verging on OCD? Probably. But they're my books. So I treat them my way. And anyone who borrows them should do the same.



Apr. 16th, 2006 10:59 am (UTC)
I don't think it's anal or weird! I'm the opposite with books, but I try extremely hard, on the rare occasions that I borrow books from others, to treat them with extreme care. I don't actually tend to borrow books from people because I'm always afraid I'll mess them up. I prefer to get my own.

One of the stupidest things I've ever done was lend a really expensive (like $200, and in the early 1990s, that was even more expensive) pure silk, cream-coloured dress to this chick who didn't even like me very much. When she returned it about 18 months (yes, EIGHTEEN MONTHS) later, not only had she not bothered to have it dry cleaned for me, it was stained with water and spilled drink, it stunk of booze, and had big cigarette burns all over it. And she said nothing about it, and didn't even thank me for loaning it or apologise for returning it late. I don't really loan things to people anymore.
Apr. 16th, 2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
Oh good Lord, that's horrendous! I feel your retrospective pain. Ouch.
Apr. 16th, 2006 12:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, her loanership skills were pretty poor.

I actually quite enjoy books that looked like they've lived, but that's probably the archaeologist in me, and I wouldn't impose that on someone else.

I don't think wanting the condition of your books respected is limited to people who can't bear the sight of a cracked spine -- it's just about people being polite enough to do their best not to treat your stuff with disdain! I wouldn't be THAT annoyed if a book came back less than pristine, but I'd definitely be peeved if there was real damage to it.
Apr. 16th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
I suppose that I see things like creases and cracked spines as a step towards the book falling apart, which does happen with paperbacks - creased cover corners do often eventually fall off, and repeatedly bending back a spine does cause the pages to fall out. So it's not just an aesthetic thing. I do like slightly worn books, but I do see a difference between slightly frayed cover corners and whopping big creases across the front.

I dunno exactly why water damaged books horrify me so much - I just hate the texture of the wobbly pages, and the way they go sort of stiff when you turn them.


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