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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. 18th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
I'm very careful about the expensive books in my library, but paperbacks I've learned to be chilled out about to an extent. However, whenever I go to buy a book, I'll sift through the entire stack to find the elusive perfect copy. The slightest bump or thumb mark can send me to another shop. I'm that fucked up.

A friend of mine, who is less than sedulous in the care of lent books (he read my abridged Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in the bath and it swelled to twice its normal size having already been pretty gigantic to begin with) enjoyed karmic payback when he lent a guy a rather thick volume containing the collected Sherlock Holmes only to receive it back, sans warning or explanation, and discover that it had been extensively vomited into.

I hated Ex Libris and quite wilfully cracked its bastard spine.
Apr. 18th, 2006 08:58 am (UTC)
However, whenever I go to buy a book, I'll sift through the entire stack to find the elusive perfect copy. The slightest bump or thumb mark can send me to another shop. I'm that fucked up.

Ha! I not only do that with books (leading to strange glances in Hodges Figgis as I gaze at every copy to find the one without thumbed covers or crumpled spine-corners), I do it with magazines too! Although I will admit that once the magazines have been bought, I treat them much as normal people treat their magazines. I'm not quite that bad.

I remember quite liking Ex Libris when I read it, despite her treatment of books causing me physical pain. That and the account of her and her husband throwing out all of their "doubles" when they moved in together, including treasured copies with great sentimental value. My boyfriend Patsington and I have never done this even though our house is preposterously full of books - I get sent at least two a day for reviewing purposes, 99.5% of which I don't want but which end up hanging around the place for ages until (a) a charity bag collection or (b) I can persuade poor Patsington to drive me and the books to the local charity shop/second hand book shop/public library. On the plus side, my local library love me so much because of all my donations that they have given me a special long-term library ticket and never make me pay any fines. Heh heh heh.
Apr. 19th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
I go through the whole stack when I purchase books too. I hate it when a new book is all scuffed before I even bring it home. I am careful of my books as well; I've had people think I hadn't read a book yet when I loaned it to them. They can get a little scuffed at the corners from being in my handbag, though.

However, I am disgraceful when it comes to returning borrowed books. They are always in the same condition they came to me in, but It takes me forever to get them back to their owners. That's why I don't borrow them. I have a few books here that friends have *insisted* that I borrow, and it's like I have a mental block about them -- I'm just never in the mood to read them, I don't know why. There's always something else I have to read first.


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