I am totally manic. I don't lend out my books. I don't write my name in books, nor do I write little comments in the margins. I don't break the spines. Ever. I won't even buy a book in a bookstore if the binding is the least bit damaged. I don't even highlight my college textbooks. The worst thing though: I refuse to buy "used" college textbooks that are highlighted/dogeared because it irks me so much. I will just pay full price. Sad, isn't it?That's not so disturbing to me--I'm sympathetic with not wanting to buy a new book with a damaged binding, and I've never been convinced about highlighting as a useful reading strategy. Although how do you know you own a book if you don't write your name in it? And a number of posts confessed to being unable to lend their books out to friends because they were so bothered that they might be returned slightly dinged up. Isn't one of the great functions of books the way that they circulate socially? We bond over shared books, recommend them to each other, give them to one another. One of the great things about social network sites is that they allow you to share your bookshelves with your friends, and to discover new friends through their reading habits. The insistence on pristine books takes them out of our social networks, leaving them uncirculated and lonely on their shelves.
But here's the post that really got me going:
Last night, I looked over and my husband was writing in a library book. An [i]old[/] library book, circa 1880 or so. In pen. He tried to deny it but then sort of copped to it. I was so mad that I actually just left the room and went to sleep on the couch (and cold bitchy silence is not my usual MO with anger, honestly) until he came and apologized. I said that I know it's not actually my business, but that to me it seems like, I don't know, torturing a small animal or something just to see what happens. It's so completely arrogant and self-centered. Grrrr.Writing in a book is akin to torturing a small animal? Put alongside the other posts in this thread, what comes across is a fetishization of the clean book, an idealization of books that seems to prioritize book form over book content. I of course think there is a great deal to be learned from the material form of a book. But don't the two work hand in hand? What's the value of a pristine book that has never been read? Especially in light of my last post about how readers make sense of their passages through books and about how necessary marking your book is, these posts to the ChickLit forum struck me as describing an impoverished relationship to books--for both their owners and for scholars of book history.
If those posts describe a near-exclusive focus on the form of the book, my husband tells a story that is the opposite. In grad school, one of his professors told a story about reading a Stanley Cavell book. As he was reading, he was finding Cavell more and more infuriating. And as he read further and further, the spine of the book began to crack and the pages began to fall out. Such was his fury that he took to literally discarding the pages as he read them--read a leaf, tear it out, throw it away.
It's a scenario that would probably kill those poor posters. And if those pristine books leave no traces of their readers in them for future scholars, the thrown-away text leaves neither readerly trace nor book. But there's a book that really mattered to its reader!
And in case you're wondering what those posts had to do with bibliophagia, here's the connection:
You're all going to hate me, but I promise, I don't do this any more (much). When I was younger, I used to eat books.Here's to loving books.
My copy of A Little Princess is more than well-loved, it's practically gone. I used to gnaw bits off the corners. It's incredibly annoying to me now. I haven't met anyone else who does that, probably for good reason. Still, as nervous habits go, I guess it's better than smoking. At least I always got my recommended daily allowance of fiber.
(You can read these posts, and others, at the ChickLit Forums. There's much to be said about the term "chick lit" and what exactly it encompasses and what exactly it dismisses, but that's a topic for another blog.)