Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thoughts On: Broken Books

As you may have noticed, I am currently reading Toni Morrison's Jazz. I'm really enjoying it so far, but I'm not sure whether I'll have time to write a full review.

However, I am going to take some time to talk about the book; and by that I mean the actual, physical book.  The copy that I'm using is about 20 years old.  So, even though I am normally very careful with books, occasionally a small piece of the binding will just crumble off. I've already had to use Sellotape on a corner that fell off for no reason.

This got me thinking about how we treat books and how they age.  It's perfectly natural for books to gradually age; for the pages to yellow, and for the binding to crack.  However, many people (and I include myself in this category) put a lot of effort into making sure that doesn't happen.  I'm really careful when I open paperback books, I never open them too wide.  I feel bad whenever I read on the beach because the book might get sandy.  Some people go even further and use special covers.

It's not that I don't like old, shabby books.  I actually really like the way they look.  It's the in-between stage that I can't stand; when there is that one defect that you can't help but fixate on.

Of course, I could just deliberately age a book when it reached that stage, but destroying a book on purpose just feels wrong.  More to the point, I always find that the overall dilapidation of a book is directly related to how often I have read it.  In a sense, being tattered is almost like an achievement that books earn by being read and loved over and over.

Perhaps this preference is just an aesthetic one, or maybe it says something about my own relationship with books.  That I'm comfortable with books that I've read once, and with the books that I love so much that I read them again and again, but that I don't like to think about the other ones.  The books that I loved the first time, but on a second reading I realized that they weren't so good.  The ones that were popular for a while, but then faded away, so that I can remember loving them, but have long forgotten the plot. The ones that I just grew out of. Maybe I romanticize my relationship with books, and those books that aren't quite ruined yet remind me of the parts of the reading experience that I don't like to dwell on.

Or maybe I've just been writing this post for far too long.

What about you?  Do you like keeping your books as neat as possible? Is life just too short to worry about things like that?