On the Sanctity of Books

When I was little, I clearly remember eating peanut butter and jelly somewhere in the vicinity of a library book. I remember this so clearly because I also remember being taught an important lesson.  Library books are special. Other people have to be able to read and enjoy them. Sticky jelly fingers and glops of grape sugar are not to be smeared on the pages of library books.  They don’t belong to us. They belong to everyone.

This memory was the earliest of the lessons I learned about the sanctity of books. Books were to be stored properly, read from front to back (with no peeking at the last page), use a proper bookmark, don’t bend open the spine to hold your page, and do not dog-ear the page corners!  Library books, and borrowed books from friends should be treated more gently and with greater care than you might treat your own novels.

Books were precious. Beloved. Worth the time and care. Worth the special treatment and their own shelves.  I was a bookworm at a very early age – by the fifth or sixth grade I was devouring anything I could get my hands on. I had a lot of books to treat respectfully.

Tearing Books Apart At the Spine?! NO!

The first time I traveled to Europe, I read a suggestion to tear the spine of the guide book and take only the section of the book you’re going to use. I gasped and fluttered my hands at my chest. I could never do that. I carefully Xeroxed and cut and pasted and Xeroxed the guidebook into sheets of paper that we could recycle as we passed away from certain areas on our itinerary.  This took hours, and I lost key words in the gutters.  It took days of planning, and I missed sections of the guidebook that we probably did need, after all.  And those guidebooks that I so carefully preserved? They are woefully out of date, so no one else will ever want to use them.

This time, when we go to Europe, I’ll be tearing out sections of guidebooks to take with us. I’ll probably sob as I apply the Xacto blade to the spine of the book, but I will do it. Because it’s smart. It’s lighter pack-weight, and it still gives you all the information you need. I know from experience  that we’re not going to use these books again, except as a reference when recalling the trip.

My bookshelves are stacked and piled and stored haphazardly, but the spines are respected and the pages uncurled. I’m trying to figure out how I want to store and present my trade paperbacks. Anyone want to build me a room full of bookshelves?




4 thoughts on “On the Sanctity of Books

  1. AK, I too was raised with library books as a child, and I never made this brilliant connection with how I care for my books now. I really loved this piece. Took me right back to childhood with some fond memories, and I discovered something about myself.

  2. You left out the bookmobile visits – which never had enough for you! But this is something I have always felt was important and I am glad you understood. In saying that, know that I understand the bookshelf issue and in recent years have had to pare down my “keeper” shelf to what I had room for with a little to spare for future favorites.

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