My Books and Me

When Merrick got married, there was a wedding dinner after the ceremony and one of her husband’s friends gave a little speech and mentioned that Philip is extremely careful with his books. This friend said that when he borrowed Philip’s books, he didn’t open them to more than a 90 degree angle so as not to break the spine.

This kind of blew my mind. I really had never realized people tried not to break the spine. I also worried that maybe I was haphazardly breaking book spines all over the place without even realizing it.

If I borrow a book from you, I will be careful with it. I’ll try and return it in as nice of shape as you gave it to me (I know you’re doubting that now. . . ).

But my own books?

They are for reading, for loving to pieces, for lending around.

I read while I eat, I shove my books in my purse or bag, toss them on the backseat of the car, stack them up precariously next to my bed, and let Ella turn the pages (she’s amazingly careful with them, which I know means that she’ll probably rip fifty pages out of something tomorrow). 

The aide at my library in Boston was horrified by my habit of putting books opened, face-down. I . . . didn’t even know you weren’t supposed to do that until she commented on it.

My mom turns down the corner of the page to mark her place, which I know some people find horrifying (I don’t do this myself but it’s because I’m too lazy).

My favorite books are very well-loved looking. The back covers are falling off, the pages are worn and the edges are fuzzy. I like them that way.

I don’t hoard my books (except for a few precious ones, like my Laura Ingalls Wilder collection or my Louisa May Alcott set). I like to let people borrow them.

Gretchen, who I’d never met until Saturday, came over and picked out a number of my BEA books to read. I was delighted that someone else could enjoy them (the fact that she brought me half a dozen donuts didn’t hurt either; neither did the fact that she kept oohing and ahhing over Ella, who took a real shine to her).

I don’t think of my books as an archival library. I weed my books ruthlessly, I give some away, I sell others, I donate many of the advance copies to the local library. I use them and then, if I’m done with them, I find another home for them. I let Ella take them off the shelf and look through them.

I get joy out of my books being read, looked at, flipped through, turned over, being loved. And if that means they don’t look crisp and new, well, that’s a price I’m more than happy to pay.

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  • Reply Saskia July 6, 2011 at 11:51 am

    My books are my library, but I agree with everything else you say. Books are to be read, and enjoyed, not kept pristinely on a shelf somewhere. (I am trying to be more ruthless though, since if I go on collecting at this rate, I'll need two extra houses to keep them all.)

  • Reply Kelly J. July 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm


  • Reply Tina's Blog July 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Unfortunately I used to be a bit like your brother-in-law. When we were growing up I made my sister sign a contract outlining how she would handle my books. I didn't even let her touch the front cover lest she would leave fingerprints on it. I am much more relaxed now- thank goodness.

  • Reply Gretchen Alice July 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Hey! That's me! I'm thrilled that I was able to make good use of your BEA bounty. Books were meant to be shared. 🙂

  • Reply Melanie July 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I love this post! If I weren't so lazy I'd underline and make notes in my books. While there's something nice about buying a brand new book with a pretty cover, I actually prefer to buy used books. It's not just the lower cost (although that is a big factor), but I love the human element of choosing a book that someone has already owned and read.

  • Reply Karen July 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I couldn't agree with you more, which is why you will find many well-loved but imperfect books at my house. It doesn't seem to matter to those reading them or looking at the pictures. I hope that Ella will feel the same way, and that she will feel free to peruse the children's book shelves next time you visit.

  • Reply TheBookGirl July 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Yes, books are meant to be enjoyed even if that means they get a little dirty or bent.

    That said, I love the feel of a brand new book to the point where I will "test" out several copies on a bookstore shelf to see which one looks like it hasn't been thumbed through 🙂

  • Reply Shelly July 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hmmm…I'd say I'm halfway in between you and your brother-in-law. I kind of naturally take care of my books (and all my other stuff), but I love to lend them out and share them with friends. I compromise by buying cheap paperback copies to use as "loaner copies" of books I really love that I would be mad if someone returned them trashed. That way, I can share my books and not be pissed if one of my friends tears them up!

  • Reply Mary July 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Loved this post! I especially love that someone like you who aquires, I'm assumming, a bazillion books a year between advance copies, conferences, etc. says it's ok to weed through and get rid of some books. My husband came from a family of readers, which is great. They love going to monthly library book sales and doing the "fill the paper bag with books for 5 bucks" deal. But when you bring home 20 new books a month you need to get rid of some, right? Wrong! They act like it's a sin to get rid of a book. I love a good book collection but I definitely don't want to have books just to take up space when no one is reading them or loving them.

  • Reply Camille July 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Amen sista!

  • Reply ACQ July 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I have definitely relaxed over the years. I remember yelling at my mom as a kid when she opened up one of my Christmas present books too wide to read the first page. Now I still tend to treat my books pretty well without thinking about it, but I have no hesitation about lending them out, taking them to the beach, and opening them more than 90 degrees.

  • Reply lifeofadoctorswife July 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Yes, I'm with you – I "love" my books, sometimes so much that they have bent pages and chocolate smears and creased covers. (I know it's love from reading The Velveteen Rabbit.)

    But my husband is like Philip! He is SO CAREFUL and he gets irritated if I leave a book face down or turn a page down or whatever. So when I read HIS books, or books we share, I have to be very very careful with them.

    But I ask you, how is it possible to wind up with a pristine book if you shove it in your purse or laptop case and travel with it? Not possible for me, that's for sure. But my husband's books look like he just bought them.

  • Reply Vee July 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Ages ago — more than a decade, I'm sure — I was watching BookTV on CSPAN (that's what I did for fun as a child… maybe that's why I'm so weird today) and saw a woman giving a talk on the different ways people "loved" their books. She was describing this phenomenon of how some people are very careful and gentle with them, wanting to keep them at archival quality, and how others were "carnal lovers" of books. I'm totally a carnal lover of books. I dog-ear my pages, make highlights and notes, crack the spines, etc. I like my book to reflect its readings =)

  • Reply Peaceful Reader July 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    A friend and I had this exact same debate years ago. I asked to borrow a book she was reading and she said yes but tentatively. When I quizzed her on her reluctance she said "well, look at your books!" The books I brought to work were…well-loved. It took me a little while but eventually she agreed with my philosophy~"better well-loved than never shared."
    I'm glad Ella gets to share you joy of books. She'll be reading chapter books before we know it.

  • Reply Emily Kate July 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I'm pretty rough on my books too. Jacob used to work at Barnes and Noble and he developed this reverence for books. In college he was dying that I wrote in my text books! I remember him trying to convince me to take off the dust jackets of my books so that they still look nice. No way, the dust jackets are to protect the actual book! I only take them off if they're annoying me. And I always fold my pages down because I never have a bookmark handy. I saw on a blog (I think 71 Toes, the daughter of Richard and Linda Eyre) that her parents rip a horizontal line in the side margin of pages and then fold down to mark the exact place on a page that they want to bookmark! Haven't gone that far yet.

  • Reply Gretchen July 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Interesting post. I agree with the others, that I'm a mix of a bunch of these. I don't like breaking the binding on my books. I underline them, but only in pencil so I can change it if I want to (I think this is mostly because I'm indecisive!). On the other hand, I read everywhere including while eating and in the bathtub and some of my books show that wear and tear, but that's because they're well read!

  • Reply Braden July 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I am glad there is one librarian in the world who doesn't yell at people for putting books face down.

  • Reply Erica July 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    You can always tell the favorite books in my house by which ones have the most food stains, the most bent spine, and the most cracked cover. Couldn't agree more.

    North Meets South

  • Reply Jennifer Lee July 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    I love reading and I love books, but I try very hard not to break the spines, I NEVER write in books, I put them in plastic bags to protect them if I take them out of the house, and I always take the paper sleeve off of hardbacks while I am reading the book so that it doesn't get damaged. I read, share, and enjoy books, but I also think they should be kept as pristine as possible.

  • Reply Deanna July 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I am SO glad to hear other book lovers admitting to owning books with a little wear and tear. I tend to be naturally careful with my books, but I don't hesitate to lend them…or to read in the bathtub or while eating, for that matter. I try to use a bookmark, but I fold up the bottom corners of pages that have a quote I want to remember for later.

  • Reply Katie Rich July 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    I am with you on this. There might be some books I am more careful with, but books are meant to be used and read (and for school books, written in).

  • Reply Shannon July 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Whenever I’d come home from preschool, my dad would inspect my knees. He’d say, “Good. You’re dirty. That means you had a good day.” I must have unconsciously kept that philosophy with my books. I keep tons of books because I’m a big re-reader. I’m proud of the worn books on my shelf because it shows that I love the stories enough to want to visit them again and again!

  • Reply Jenny July 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    This is awesome! I do a few things that are frowned upon with books, like lay them face down from time to time, but I'm a little more hesitant to lend my books to people who are very hard on them. I should take a page from your book. (nice pun, huh?) and just let books be truly enjoyed.

  • Reply Amy Sorensen July 6, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I am exactly like you. I like my books to look like they've been read. Plus I write in them a lot.

    Anne Fadiman has an essay called "Never Do that To a Book!" that talks about the different types of reader. You're either a courtly reader and treat your books carefully, or you're a carnal reader and you, well…aren't.

    I'm absolutely a carnal book lover! The essay is in her collection Ex Libris and I think you can read it at this link:

  • Reply ccr in MA July 7, 2011 at 12:33 am

    I was just about to mention the Anne Fadiman essay too! I am more a carnal than courtly book lover myself, but I will admit to not liking the turn-down-the-corner approach to bookmarking. I've seen too many used books and library books missing corners of pages, and sometimes they were folded carelessly enough that words were lost. Ow! But overall, I like to enjoy the body as well as the soul of the book.

  • Reply Kimberly July 7, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Agreed on all counts. I also go out of my way to avoid hard back books in most cases because they are hard to stick in a purse, read in the bath, lay face down on the table, etc.

  • Reply Mia July 7, 2011 at 2:06 am


  • Reply RA July 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I'm pretty pristine with my books. No writing, no bending the spine, no folding corners. I do eat and read, though. Library books are even more tightly protected due to my fear of getting in trouble.

    At the beach this week, I always gasped a bit when I saw people fold the covers completely over the back of their books. The spine, the spine! It does hurt me a bit.

    However, I love having cookbooks spattered with stuff. I am quite complex, it seems.

  • Reply Cari July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Great blog!

    I agree with you. My books are on the floor, on a shelf and scattered about. The only ones that I keep neatly stacked are my classic hardcovers.

  • Reply Carly July 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I couldn't agree more! I love to love my books… and have no problem with my kids stacking and playing with them. Even, surprisingly, my vintage books are allowed to be loved (much to Jeremy's horror!)

  • Reply emandtrev July 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Agreed! I am admittedly pretty hard on my own books, but only because I love them so. 🙂

  • Reply Jill July 11, 2011 at 3:17 am

    I love to love my books and I have no problem lending out my books…except the time one girl dropped it in the tub and gave it back to me still stamp and all the pages stuck together. That was irritating.

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