I've always had a bit of…resistance when people equate loving reading with loving books themselves. I mean the actual, physical presence of the book: spine, pages, covers, dust jacket. Throughout The Book Thief, the constant reference to how people who loved to read would never leave books open face down, or leave a cup of water balanced on the cover, or whatever; it just struck me as inaccurate. Books, to me, are a conduit. The physical manifestation is unimportant, all that matters is getting inside the story. While I am mildly interested in seeing or holding a first edition of Milton, what I find really amazing and wonderful is that anyone can own a genuine work of art, a masterpiece, for around $4.99 (or even less, if it's used or left out in a box).
It's tricky, though, when that place where my slightly self-congratulatory devil-may-care attitude about taking care of books bumps up against the reality of what otherwise sweet and wonderful children can do to those books. Books in my house have been dropped in the bathtub–more than once, because they wanted to see what would happen. Dust jackets are routinely discarded, touching pen-and-ink illustrations have been "colorized." These are, I hasten to add, our books.
I more or less let this be. Which is maybe a mistake.
Today a little girl from across the street came over to get back her Bone books, which Diana had borrowed. What state the books were in when they came to us, I don't know. But the first night they came they started losing pages. We found the pages, determined that we would replace the book, then forgot to do it until she came over.
There were tears.
All is now well; Diana apologized profusely; the little girl is no longer weeping; we ran out and replaced the book (volume 4). But it makes me question my whole attitude. Is what I thought of as a lack of preciousness, merely a mask for a lack of appreciation? I wonder.