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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. 17th, 2006 03:37 am (UTC)
Oh, I am utterly, wretchedly carnal with my books. I write in them! I break their spines! I DOGEAR THE PAGES! (I feel like that has to be in caps - every time I say it at a party, people gasp.) I drop them in the bath and then dry them on the radiator! Sometimes more than once!

That said, I have only once returned a book in a different condition than when I received it, and it was a dirt smudge on one page that made me feel like a criminal for years afterwards.

I do - and this is another topic for bookish conversation - keep lended books for far too long, though. Like, weeks! Terrible.
Apr. 17th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
I break the spines too, because there's something so pleasing about a book that will lie perfectly flat like that, even though I know it's not good for the longterm health of the book. I also dogear the pages, because bookmarks always end up falling out, and memorizing the page number of where I left off doesn't work either. For this reason I don't like borrowing books, because I know I'm a lot more physical with them than other people are and I don't want to harm something they really care about.


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