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?by