Books. What are they good for?

How people treat books can say a lot about them.

I'm not talking about some sort of metaphysical, spiritual appreciation of 'books' as a whole. I mean physical, right-there-in-your-hands books. Pages, paper, ink, cover. Damageable. Carryable. Loanable. Other -able words.

A person's books are their own, of course. They're just property, protected by law. How they want them to be treated is up to them, and they're free to tell you so.

'Don't bend the pages.'
'Try not to crack the spine.'
'Just ... take off the dust cover if you keep it in your bag ..'

So how do you treat yours? Do you care? Are you - and this is certainly blasphemous in certain circles - a scribbler? Do you jot down notes on the pages? Are those notes even about the text?

'Remember to call Aunt Gertrude!' 
'I banana. 4 apples. Sugar. Bacon. Juice. Soy milk.'

Would you dare write those in your copies?

Me, I'm a batterer. I'm a scribbler, though not quite as much -  I normally have enough paper around the place and I rarely have to resort to books. I'm a page-bender and a spine-cracker. I use my books, but I don't use them up. I've yet to completely destroy a book by mistake. It gives 'em character, makes them more mine, and can be a great way of remembering a book's history. If I read certain lines in a certain place, sometimes I jot down the date and the location. With every re-read, the memory is fresh. 

I carry books all over the place. Bus journeys, plane rides, travelling, going out for coffee. They get battered, oh yes, and dented, and sometimes stained. I don't like it when they get soaked, and the pages all get ever so slightly thicker, but that's exactly what happened to my copy of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and now that's part of the book, to me.

My own American Gods. My precious ...

I love this site - The Book inscription Project - though there's a slight sadness that the books have lost their owners. Messages are great. They personalise, they add meaning, they show thought. I own quite  few second hand books with inscriptions, some almost a hundred years old, and there's enough material there for an entire novel, if I ever wanted. Amazing, faux-nostalgia.

So where do you stand? Should books be more sacred? Do we treat them too much like they're anything other than paper and ink? Or should I be more careful in how I treat the authors I love?


  1. I'm afraid I may be the AntiSimon. My heart breaks a little bit if I lend a book I love to someone and they return it looking worn and dog-eared, as though instead of reading it they've spent an evening throwing it against the wall. BUT I'm also someone who rarely re-reads a book, so mine have no reason to look chewed. And if someone scribbled a note in one of my books - especially a not-book-related note - there would be an internal meltdown going on over here.

    Strangely enough, friends rarely ask to borrow my books... ;)

  2. Haha! My rules don't apply to borrowed books, fear not. As with anything, if it's not mine, I try not to destroy it. Here's a question, though - if you're not going to reread them, why keep them pristine on the shelves?

  3. Ohh I'm much like you. I feel like a book that shows signs of wear and tear is a book that has been loved. I'm not the collector type. I have dog-eared pages, water stained books, pages falling out, coffee stains, pencil marks, etc. If there is a book that I own without one of these emblems of ME in it, it means I haven't read it.

  4. Coffee stains is a very writer-y mark!

  5. Well... in answer to your question about why I keep them, it's fairly simple: I'm weird.

  6. The joy is in the words, not the paper! My books get beaten up. My friend who is an editor at a publishing house regularly leaves me notes written on the blank pages from the front/back of books, which she tears out. Don't mistake form for function, or something.