Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ugly books

I heard someone comment yesterday that she reads her softcover books so carefully that after she's finished they still look brand new.

If she could see one of my paperbacks, she'd cry.

The print always goes too close to the margins for my comfort, so I force the books wide open, cracking their spines. If the phone rings while I'm reading, I think nothing of turning down a page to mark my place. I usually have breakfast alone, and sometimes I'll toss the newspaper aside and pick up a book. If I happen to drop a blob of orange marmalade on one of the pages, I just rub it off with my thumb and keep reading.

Many of the paperbacks currently parked on the shelf in my office are ratty and dog-eared; the worse a book's condition, the more likely it is to have been loved long and well. If a book's still pretty, that usually means I didn't care for it, and didn't read more than a few pages. I'm into instant gratification, probably because I'm nearing fifty and am beginning to fear that if I don't get my gratification right now, I might die waiting for it. So I don't bother to finish books that don't pull me right in.

In my mind, paperback books are like Kleenex and hardcovers are like Irish linen handkerchiefs; there's a time and place for both. I love paperbacks for their low prices and portability, hardcovers for their beauty and longevity. I treat my hardcovers pretty well: I keep them far away from orange marmalade, and I don't scribble phone messages on them.

How about you?


Anonymous said...

I'm with you there, you can tell what books I love to read, by the way they look :)

Angie said...

I had a boyfriend in college who would write in library books IN PEN. As a service to the rest of the library-going public, I did eventually convince him to switch to pencil.

Katie Hart said...

Well, my treatment of a book usually depends on how it looks prior to reading. If it's nice (gotta love some of those CBA trade paperback), I'm pretty careful. Mass-markets do seem to get a little more messed up than the others (and of course my Narnia books are well-worn from many rereadings), but a lot of the major wear-and-tear comes from those I've let borrow the books, be they siblings or friends (now I know one more person to hide my books from).

Dennie McDonald said...

I am a spine pureist - but that comes from my mother - if I can get through a book without creasing the spine I've done my mother proud - that's one of those freaky things that I have; maybe an obsession I don't know - but I am working on it - I dog-eared a book just the other day - and after the shakes stopped ... HA! =)

Neal said...

Brenda, I couldn't have described my own approach to books better if I'd tried. Paperbacks get mauled, hardbacks (of which I have far fewer, and probably mostly reference/coffee table type) are treated more carefully.

Add to that the fact that I buy a lot of my books second hand (something which, correct me if I'm wrong, you as an author are perfectly comfortable with), which means that many of my books come ready-mauled!

My current book? Carter Beats the Devil, by Glenn David Gold. The story of a magician in the 1920s. I got it second hand from the library, and it's been well read. It's being well read again -- I'm loving it.

Marianne McA said...

Nice quote on this from Anne Fadiman's essay 'Never do that to a book':
"To us, a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy."
[Anne Fadiman Ex Libris.]

I'm a spine-cracker myself.

Brenda Coulter said...

Nice quote, Marianne. That's exactly how I feel about books--the paper is not sacred. (You should see all the markings and notes in my Bible!)

I buy a lot of my books second hand (something which, correct me if I'm wrong, you as an author are perfectly comfortable with)

I'm not merely "comfortable" with it, Neal, I am wildly enthusiastic about it. No, authors don't get royalties on those sales. But when books are cheap or even free, more people take books home. And when more people are taking books home, books and authors are getting more exposure.

It's very common for authors to purchase copies of their own books to give away. They call that a promotional expense, and they do it because they believe it's an effective way to generate excitement about their books. So I have to laugh when those same authors squawk about their books being sold on eBay. What on earth is the difference?

Nienke Hinton said...

Part of the reason I believe real books remain popular (vs e-books and talking books) is because they are tactile. My enjoyment from a book comes not only from the reading but from cuddling on a couch, under a blanket and turning each page without realizing it. Mine, too, are stained, folded, bent, and scribbled in.
I just can't get that same satisfaction from reading something on my computer monitor or pocket pc nor from being too protective or careful of a book.

Julie said...

You all crack me up. I'm one of those people whose books are in almost-pristine condition. And it's not that I'm trying so hard to be careful, although I do prefer grabbing a bookmark to leaving a book open-face-down on the coffee table. It's just that I never once felt the need to crack a spine. It never occurred to me to graffiti a book with marmalade. And if the phone rings, I don't put down my book until the caller has convinced me to.

Nope, at my house, if a book's in terrible condition, it's because my dog was having a bad day when I finished reading it. Every once in a while, he likes to shred the cover off a paperback. Strange puppy.

Shelbi said...

I'm a spine-crackin' dog-earin' book lover, too, and quite unrepentant about it.

I leave books lying around face down all the time, but only because my kids think any stray piece of paper in the house belongs to them, and must be stored wherever it is they stash their odd socks, barbie shoes, magnetix balls and lose change.

The more I love a book, the harder I am on it.

This is probably one of those things like 'does the toilet paper roll go up or down on the dispenser?'

No right answer, but endless fun to talk about. Don't you just love the diversity of the human race and all the silly little things that make us different, yet the same?

Kristin said...

It drove my older sister mad that I had no problems making huge creases in the spines of paperbacks. My husband is affronted when I bend the page down to save my place.

A book is for enjoying, not for preserving until time immemorial. Maybe if it were a copy of the Guttenberg Bible, I would leave it in pristine shape. But a $5.99 paperback?

What I would like to understand is why other people feel the need to keep a book in perfect shape? What goes through that kind of reader's mind? Always been a mystery to me.

Lori said...

I had a boyfriend who literaly yelled at me for dogearing the page of a book he had given me as a present. A paperback book I might add. I broke up with him. Reading is so much a part of my life that my books show the wear & tear of daily activity. A loved book is a worn book!

mariann said...

I'm somewhat careful with my books, mostly because the spousal unit is quite anal about how books should be handled. Before we met, however, I'd really work the pages... in my mind, books are tools, like pencils and blank sheets of paper, and they should be used to maximum efficiency. So if I break the spine or fold a page, then I'm showing enjoyment, affection or admiration. :)

Lay-la said...

I'm the type who will try to keep a book pristine, if I REALLY love it. But if the spine cracks? Oops, this is going in the "well loved" catergory...no more worries! Or, if I accidentally dog-ear the bottom of a page (something I do quite often), it's up for grabs. I usually "ruin" my books. I love them.