Taking Care

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.

10 thoughts on “Taking Care

  1. If you aren’t concerned about the condition of your own books, I wouldn’t worry about it. I think it displays a healthy unconcern for ‘things’ and I admire it.
    For myself, I find that when I absolutely love the story (whether fictional or not), I revere the copy that I own and am loathe to loan it out.
    (But I use the library a lot and own very few books, so I keep my hoarding instincts under control.)

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  2. I think it’s wonderful that you can see books as merely stories for the vessels they contain. I have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 15-month-old, and I do day care, so books are constantly in danger around here. I try to do the obvious things, like keep the more fragile or precious books away from wee hands (there are a few books, for example ones that I read as a kid, that I really don’t want to see destroyed). Other than that, I try to explain to kids that if we don’t treat books well, we won’t be able to read them anymore; they’ll have to go in the garbage if we rip all the pages out. Threatening to put things in the garbage always elicits a response, and they usually get it: if you like the story, care for the package it’s in.
    Of course, I still spend a lot of my time taping books back together; and I’m slightly relieved to see that a lot of the books I read as a kid are covered in tape too. And once in a while, I end up simply replacing a book that was loved too hard. But I try overall to toe the line between responsibility and simply obsessing over the actual books.

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  3. I just think it’s a different mind set. I love books, the object, just as much as I love books, the stories. I will read a book I may have never looked at, if it feels good in my hands, or if the cover is pretty, or if it smells a certain way. I love the look of a full bookshelf and the weight of a book in my hand. That is not to say that I never leave a book open spine up or some other faux pau, but I try really hard to do so gently, because to me, books are friends and I want to keep them nice. Also, I’m pretty anal retentive, so I’m sure that doesn’t help! HA!

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  4. It seems to me backwards to imagine that people who loved reading would never “leave books open face down, or leave a cup of water balanced on the cover, or whatever…” For me, logic says that people who love reading do these things all the time, because they’re reading all the time!
    While I do try hard not to lose or obliterate actual pages, my habit of reading while doing everything leads my books to be exposed to stray crumbs from reading while cooking and eating, water spots from reading in the bathtub or pool, grass stains, etc. I also routinely dogear pages and leave my books open face down because those are the quickest ways to save my place when I’ve read up until the very last second before I have to do something else.
    None of which is to say I don’t appreciate and take extra care of a beautiful or old book. And I certainly have tried to discourage my daughter from destroying and defacing books. But shelves full of pristine volumes say to me that the owner doesn’t appreciate them enough to enjoy them.
    And when my daughter wrote her name and exuberantly drew swirly scribbles on the inside covers (front and back) of her beloved Winnie-the-Pooh book, I was pleased because it showed me how much she loved it, to put her mark on it that way, and because I know that in 10 or 20 or 30 years we’ll look fondly at her shaky 4 year old signature and remember reading it together.

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  5. My mom loves books. She loves to read, too, but she really loves the physical book. I was always forbidden to write in books or dog ear pages or leave them spine up. The result is that when I got old enough to want to make margin notes or be caught somewhere without anything for a bookmark, I suffered some. I love books, too. I love the way they smell, I love the feeling of pages in my fingers. I love books enough that I am sort of queasy when I think about Kindle. But, I’m more interested in the story and I don’t mind some spine up treatment or margin notes or whatever. And I routinely throw away dust jackets, because I don’t love them. I try to discourage coloring in books or other things that mar their nature, but I don’t get stressed about it.

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  6. We love the Bone books here too! My daughter was so on about them that my husband and I both ended up reading them too and really enjoying them. One thing I have noticed lately, is that graphic novels, maybe due to their shiny paper (?) are poorly bound and the pages fall out. Our Bone books are still OK, but the W.I.T.C.H. books are shedding pages like autumn leaves. Very frustrating!
    And we’re not particularly careful about books either. How can you be when you read in bed, in the tub, in the car, at the park, in the kitchen, etc. My best friend growing up was obsessed about keeping her books pristine. To the extent that she would get upset if you put a crease down the spine from actually opening the book all the way! Maybe that was what put me off of tender care for books. As long as my kids aren’t being destructive on purpose, I don’t particularly mind how they treat books.

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  7. I can remember the exact moment when I realized that books needed to be taken of instead of left out in the open. It was a library book called Stanley (about a caveman who wanted to paint and not hunt) and my dog ate it. My mom made me go to the library, apologize for being careless with their book and then pay for the book out of my own money. So…from then on I take care of my books like precious objects of art. Now, I am the only person in my family who does this so it is obviously something I just internalized. I’m trying very hard not to be upsed with my 20 mo. old with her books. But I’m pretty strict about no coloring in them at least!

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  8. There are certain books that I take special care of (autographed copies, for example) but I routinely lose dust covers, turn down the page to mark where I am, end up with food or oil smeared in a margin (from eating and reading at the same time), etc.

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  9. Not exactly the same, but I just started making notes in cookbooks about new recipes I try. It’s incredibly liberating!
    According to Theodore Rex, Theodore Roosevelt would read at least a book a day and several magazines. Observers said that he treated reading like a battlezone; as he finished each page of a magazine, he’d grunt in triumph, tear it out and throw it on the floor.

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  10. Snuggly Girl regularly leaves books face down and open, despite the scattering of bookmarks in every room of the house. I think it is because that makes it much faster to pick up the book one-handed with food in your other hand and get right back to what matters.

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