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Oct 13

Do Your Books Look Well-Loved or Well-Preserved?

I love the look of well-loved old books.Two different comments recently got me thinking about how I treat my books. I heard one and read the other within a couple of hours of each other.

The first was a comment by a friend who had borrowed two picture books – Alexander’s Outing by Pamela Allen and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. She mentioned that she had been very careful and made sure that she reminded her children that the books were borrowed and needed to be treated with great care.

The second was a paragraph at the beginning of the introduction to the 35th anniversary edition of Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas.

I want you to make a wreck of this book. Bend back the corners on the pages you like best. Write your name on the insider cover or any other place you like. Maybe even put a few stickers on the back. A year from now, I want to know that you’ve touched this book – lived it, loved it, cared for it, and shared it – the way I hope it touches you.

I am very careful with my books. Novels that I read often have no creases in the spines and I don’t fold down page corners. This is not so much because I want to keep my books looking like new, as much as my tendency to treat books with respect. Despite this care, the idea of having a book show that I have ‘lived it, loved it, cared for it and shared it’ really appeals to me.

The books I love, those I have read and re-read and those whose pages I have lost myself in, do show signs of my passing. I have several novels with notes in the margins and one of my most treasured books is my high school copy of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which has notes, comments and cross references on almost every page. When I read Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand I couldn’t help but underline parts that I found particularly significant, both for the ideas they expressed and the beauty of the words themselves.

My children’s books have always been placed where they could reach them. Their favourites definitely look well loved and well read and I like that. I like that in years to come they will have evidence of their affection for particular stories. I have encouraged my children to see books not merely as something to be looked at then put safely back on the shelf, but something to be experienced, embraced, enjoyed and shared.

Books and the ideas, images and thoughts they contain are precious but they are also robust – for me their significance and beauty are actually enhanced by signs that they have been appreciated. I’m not likely to ever start treating books carelessly, but I am grateful for Marlo Thomas’ reminder to not be afraid to leave my mark on the books I read, just as I hope the books I read leave a positive mark on me.

Do you subscribe to Thomas’ approach to books, or do you prefer that your books remain as neat and tidy as possible?

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11 comments

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  1. life in a pink fibro

    When I, or my children, borrow books, we take care to use bookmarks. I never encourage bending any book back at the spine or drawing in them. I don’t even make notes or underlines. So there is respect.

    However, I am a page folder from way back. And my books always look like they’ve been gone through like a good dose of salts. Loved and lived in is a great way to put it.
    .-= life in a pink fibro´s last blog ..The Letter of The Day- Still L =-.

    1. Susan

      Borrowed books are always treated with care here too. Books should be returned in the same condition they were borrowed. My children have also been warned about not bending covers back as well – there is a difference between being relaxed and careless with books. I should note that I have never encouraged my children to write in books either.

      I never developed the habit of folding pages. My children have a good supply of bookmarks, but I generally just use a scrap of paper if I need to mark my place.

  2. Kira

    It’s a running joke in my family that I treat books as it they’re the most fragile things on earth. I don’t doggie-ear my pages, or write inside, and I try hard to not break the spine. My books, minus a little bit of shelf wear, tend to look brand new even after I’ve read them many times.

    That being said, anyone looking at my bookshelf could still pick out my favorites. The ones that are worn and yellowed despite my care…the ones with creased spines…the ones with the most shelf wear on the covers. Some of the ones I’ve owned for years and have read more times than I can count will need to be replaced soon, as the spines are completely worn or pages are falling out. I keep my books as clean as possible so that if they become favorites they’ll last me a very long time and I can enjoy them for my whole life.
    .-= Kira´s last blog ..Amazon’s ‘Hot New Releases’ in Fantasy- Oct 12- 2010 =-.

    1. Susan

      A friend has joked about my books looking brand new too, as I tend not to crack the spines when reading either. It’s hard to avoid some general wear and tear on a book that is read more than once though. I agree, books that are cared for do last longer. Many of my favourite novels from my teens are still going strong, although I think the first book of The Belgariad by David Eddings is being held together by a rubber band. I must have read that series 50 times in my misspent youth. 🙂

  3. Rachel

    I never used to care much about creasing books… for me, that was just what happened when you read them. Then early on in our relationship, my fiance gave me a book for a gift. I cracked the spine when I read it and he freaked out! He got really upset and told me I wasn’t to borrow any of his books until I learned to read them without cracking the spine.. his horror at my carelessness quickly turned into my horror and since then I am very careful lol most of our books look unread. Bit over the top? maybe, but they do look lovely sitting on the shelves and I no longer have to think about how to hold my book without creasing it.. it just comes naturally. That said, some books are so tightly bound that the spine does crease but I don’t mind so much…

    hmmm I made my fiance sound really anal right? He’s not really, books are the only thing he is funny about. I wish he was funny about throwing his clothes on the bedroom floor… lol
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..The Collector – John Fowles =-.

    1. Susan

      Amen to finding a man who is obsessive about not dropping his clothes on the floor. 🙂 If a few creases on the spine stresses your fiance out so much, I should introduce him to my sister. Books she borrows make their way back to the original owner (eventually), usually with the addition of coffee stains and bent pages. He’d never recover.

      I’m not obsessive about keeping the spines ‘uncracked’. I guess the way I hold books just does that without me thinking about it. I do encourage my children to be careful with the spines of their books though. A few creases aren’t really a problem, but a book with a broken spine doesn’t last long.

  4. Naomi

    My most well loved and read books look just that. They have dog ears, cracked spines, sand in them… I thought about buying a new copy of Wuthering Heights as my original one is so tatty, but I felt that would be being unfaithful to the one I fell in love with when I was 18.
    I can tell the books I love by the scruffy nature of them.
    But, I am very careful with any books I borrow.
    .-= Naomi´s last blog ..Hump Day Happiness =-.

  5. Melissa

    Picture books – careful.
    My own books – pages turned down, tea stains, sometimes chocolate crumbs 🙂

    1. Susan

      A cup of tea, chocolate and a good book – sounds wonderful to me!

  6. MaximumLight

    My favourite books have a memory or a sense of place within them.

    I read The Lovely Bones in Karajini and it has the hue of red dust.

    I read A Million Little Pieces on the beach in Ningaloo and it has fine white sand interleaved in the pages.

    And just recently, I re read Wally Lambs Shes Come Undone under a magnificent Karri tree in Shannon River, with a leaf my daughter found me as a book mark.

    I ask my kids to respect their books, but not so precious as to take away their comfort.

    When I tuck them in at night, it always seems they have fallen asleep with a Dr Seuss book, bent and creased, underneath them.

    1. Susan

      I love your descriptions of your books. I can often remember where I was when I read books that are particular favourites, although I don’t necessarily have any keepsakes from those places in the books to remind me. 🙂

      We love Dr Seuss as well. Definitely books that deserve to be cuddled!