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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 02:44 pm (UTC)
I think I owe you a new copy of Gaudy Nights. I tried SO HARD not to open it more than 45˚ and to keep the spine as perfect and smooth as it was when you gave it to me, but I've never, ever tried to read a book like that before and I think it takes practice. Sorry!

But then, I want to read everything in electronic format: books annoy me massively. But I promise I did try!
Apr. 16th, 2006 03:32 pm (UTC)
Well, that's actually the second copy of Gaudy Night that I've bought - I used to have a really manky second hand one with the cover half-off, so I bought that nice American edition to replace it and match my other ones. So I think going through three editions would be a bit much, even for me! Really, I just shouldn't lend out my favourite books.
Apr. 16th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC)
If it's any comfort, I completely adored Gaudy Night, after not particularly liking the first one you lent me. So at least the spine were not (only very, very slightly) creased in vain!


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