“Never do that to a book”?

I have to confess to never having read any of Anne Fadiman´s books, even though they seem to be ones I´d really enjoy. My library doesn´t appear to put much stock in their appeal to a wider readership. Since they like to acquire picture books in different languages, I have given up on trying to figure out how the librarians´minds work.

Vishy was kind enough to send me Fadiman´s essay “Never Do That to a Book” to get me to confess to my worst habits in handling books 😉 For those who haven´t read this particular essay or else cannot remember Fadiman´s thoughts, let me give a short summary:

Fadiman distinguishes between two types of booklovers, the courtly lover and the carnal lover. Courtly lovers believe in treating books like newborns, very very carefully. They are the ones that murder you if there is the slightest indication in the cover that you´ve read the book they lent you. Carnal lovers on the other hand do not believe that it shows disregard to a book´s content if they dog-ear a book, rip out chapters, and generally “love (their) books to pieces”.

Regardless of Fadiman´s convincing anecdotes, I think that booklovers rarely fall so clearly into one or the other category. It´s the complete arbitrariness in the treatment of books of those who fall between the categories that´s much more interesting and I believe also more common.

I have never treated books so carefully that no one looking at them could tell they´d been read (or even touched). I used to dog-ear the pages but seem to have mostly grown out of this habit, I´m not sure why, might be because I now usually have something bookmark-like on hand (carrying lots of paper around with you might just be a grown-up thing). Even worse, I´m an unapologetic spine-breaker. The first thing I do after opening a book is to firmly bend the book so that it doesn´t fall shut with something akin to speed-of-light and I won´t have to use as much strength to keep the book open as I do when I´m carrying my library loot. So yes, you can tell from looking at the spine that the book has been or is being read, but this has rarely resulted in pages falling out. I also leave books lying facedown when I´m at home and take a break to get a cup of tea or something. Bookmarks are for marking the page when I´m carrying a book around with me and then I´m not very choosey about my bookmarks. They might be receipts or post-its, postcards, a flyer, and sometimes even an actual pretty bookmark.  I recently got one which has an elastic string with which you can mark the page, keep the book closed and the bookmark from falling out, I love that one. However, I´d never rip pages or whole chapters out of books and throw the rest away. Apparently some people throw away the pages they´ve read when they are travelling so that they don´t have to carry the whole book with them. That is something I´d never do, I actually spent hours taping together loose pages of Agatha Christie mysteries in my teens, when my mother and I had both read them all so often that they were indeed loved to pieces.

Fadiman also mentions that to some “the most terrible (. . .) thing one can leave in a book is one´s own words”. In that regard I probably come close to the attitude of a courtly lover. I hardly ever write in my books but instead use post-its as pagemarkers. Weirdly enough this makes them look slightly academic in my eyes, weirdly, because I have no problem desecrating non-fiction at all. Highlighting in atrocious candyland colours, making notes, underlining, no problem. But doing that to a fun book, a work of prose, that´s something that´s actually almost painful to me. As a student of literature, it´s something I cannot always avoid. If the book is just part of class discussions then I underline things in pencil and make a few notes in the margins, but  if it´s a book I´m using for a paper I treat it exactly as I would non-fiction but can never really look at or even read that edition again.

Oh and all this applies only to my own books, not to library books or ones I´ve borrowed from friends!

How do you treat your books? Are you a courtly or a carnal lover of books?

And now for something completely different: I´m going home tomorrow for a week of holidays to see family and friends (thus the picture above) so I´m not sure how much I´m going to be around here. I have some reviews typed up and set to be posted but will probably not have much time to read all your posts and comment as much. Please don´t be upset, I´ll try to catch up when I get back!

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44 thoughts on ““Never do that to a book”?

  1. I really have to read this essay – sounds like the kind of things I love!

    I think I’m somewhere in-between. I would never voluntarily damage books. I’ve been known for writing in my university books though, just because it made my life a whole lot easier. But my private books look, after having read them, as new as if they were just bought. I don’t scribble in them, I mark quotes with post-it notes. I hate bent spines. Sometimes, when books are too thick, it’s hard to avoid, but I never bend the spines on purpose, it makes me cringe when I see others do it. Books for me are something that you use and they should look read – that’s where all my notes and post-its come in. But they shouldn’t look tortured.

    Obviously, books borrowed from friends or library are treated like raw eggs – with caution.

    I really hope you have the best week with your family and friends. Don’t worry about posts or comments, just have fun! We’ll still be here when you come back! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Susi! That´s so great about book bloggers, everyone´s so nice and understanding.

      Writing in uni books does make life easier, although I´m very reluctant about it 🙂

      Glad you´re also a pagemarker user! I can see how you´d want to not break the spine, I´m just completely annoyed because I feel like I can´t read in peace without opening the book “completely” 😀

      I´ve got the essay as a word doc thanks to Vishy and could mail it to you if you like.

  2. Okay, so it appears I’m a blend of both extremes. I never break the spine of my own books, or dog ear the pages. I don’t know why… just habit, I suppose. (My mother makes fun of me all the time; she thinks I read with my book open an inch wide). On the other hand, my school books have been positively destroyed. I write in them, fold the pages, stuff them into my bags, highlight passages. Funny how that works out…

    1. This blend and in-betweeness of most readers is much more interesting to me than Fadiman´s strict categories!

      I think to many readers spine-breaking is a big taboo 😉 And I´m so with your mother on that ;D

      Maybe it´s that one can look at uni books as work and it seems somehow less horrible to “destroy” them.

  3. i try and keep them in good condition as i can ,but haven’t always think older i got more i look after them ,all the best stu

    1. Interesting how your treatment of books evolved 🙂 Maybe we all change in that regard over the years.

      Thanks for stopping by, Stu!

  4. This is one of my favourite essays. I am most definitely a courtly lover (though I agree that Fadiman’s definitions are perhaps too strict, but such is the way with any classification essay). Cracked spines, dog-earred pages, notes scribbled in the margins…there is no surer way to drive me completely mad!

    1. Haha, then my treatment of books must be very painful to you 🙂 Trying to keep books in such a new state sounds very difficult though.

  5. I am a courtly lover. My books need to stay in like-new condition. I gasp when I see a broken spine! I spend a lot of money on books, and I really think of them as an investment. Hopefully, I will have kids who love to read as much as I do and they will be able to read from my collection.

    1. I like that you want your kids to be able to read them! I don´t think my books will be unreadable in a couple of years though 😉 I guess it makes sense to treat them as an investment, I just want to be able to read them without be super careful. Good luck with keeping your books like new! 🙂

  6. I am definitely a carnal lover of books. In fact, I love books that feel loved so much I only buy second hand books (althought that’s also for financial reasons). I am a page turnerer downerer. I am very familiar with taping my pages back in when they have come out. It’s all about the book love for me

    1. I love your approach! 🙂 I love second hand books for the same reasons (excpet when they smell of smoke). Sounds like you really love your books to pieces 😉

  7. Glad to know that you liked Fadiman’s essay, Bina 🙂 It was wonderful to read your thoughts on the essay.

    As you have written most of us readers fall somewhere in between, when compared to Fadiman’s categories of readers. I don’t really break the spines of my books, but there is evidence of my reading in the spine 🙂 I liked your observation ‘The first thing I do after opening a book is to firmly bend the book so that it doesn´t fall shut with something akin to speed-of-light’ 🙂 I think this is very true with paperbacks and sometimes with hardbacks which are not stitched.

    Two things that I like doing in a book is writing my name, the place where I acquired the book and the date. When I look at them again, it brings back a lot of old memories for me – like the rainy, stormy day when I went and got a particular book from the bookshop. Another thing I love doing is hightlight lines in a book. I used to underline with a pencil earlier, but now I like highlighting. I never keep a book face-down. I also rarely use bookmarks. I mostly remember the page where I left off and so I come back quite easily. I also like reading books with their jacket on, because I can always look back at the jacket and see the picture on it. I never tear any pages from books. When I was travelling once, I noticed a fellow traveller on the plane taking a Lonely Planet guide and ripping off pages that he wanted. It broke my heart. I would do the more difficult thing – lug around the heavy Lonely Planet guide with me. But the odd thing is that when I buy used-books or when I borrow books from the library, I like the ones which have dog-eared pages, which have things written on them by their previous readers / owners and I am quite excited when I stumble upon something unique sometimes – like a letter or a card inside the book.

    Hope you have a wonderful time with your friends and family at home! Hope also you are able to catch up on some reading at home.

    1. I´m so glad you send me this essay, I loved it! 🙂

      That´s what my books look like, you can always tell how far I´m into the book from looking at the spine.

      Sounds like a great idea, writing the place and date of acquiring the book, into it! 🙂 Highlighting in fun books is so shocking to me 😀 But you do give a lot of great passages in your reviews so I guess I´m glad you do!

      Ripping books apart horrifies me as well, I always lug the lonely planet around with me, even though it is so heavy.

      Maybe it´s a mystery thing with discovering things in second hand books, an adventure 🙂

      And thank you, I´m having a great time at home. I should stop reading, I can´t keep up with the reviews 😉

  8. I don’t think I cleanly fit into either courtly or carnal lover lol, I’m somewhere in-between. I agree I love breaking the spine of the book so it stays open by itself, it can also then lie flat on my lap when reading and travelling. Haven’t ever lost a page from doing it though I think I might be horrified if I did! My only dabble into courtly love of books is the idea of writing in a book…I would never do it. Used to hate that part about school and uni like you I would use post it notes instead. The few times I did write in a book at school I felt soooo bad! Did it in pencil so I could rub it out lol :-)But after that I’m more carnal I use bookmarks but if one isn’t to hand then I use receipts or if I’m just popping to make a cup of tea I leave the book lying face down open at the page (breaking the spine some more, scandalous!) haha.

    I’ve never actually read the essay in question, may have to look it up now, but a great post really got me thinking!

    1. Yay, a fellow spine-breaker! 🙂 Sounds like we are very similar in how we treat our books! I feel sorry for my friends in uni, I always flinch when they highlight things in books we are discussing.

      Let me know of you´d like me to mail you the essay 🙂

  9. I don’t want any folds or scratches on my books. Broken spines are terrible! I hate them and I do whatever I can to not get the spine to break. I want the spine to stay smooth. So when I feel that there’s a wrinkle on the back (from breaking) I just get sad, for a little bit. When I’m done reading and I put the book away I don’t care anymore. Until I pick it back up to read again.

    I’m not so good with collegebooks though. I put them face down, I sometimes write in them, though I prefer not to.

    So courtly, for sure. (It’s pretty much also the reason I don’t buy second hand books, they never look and smell as good as new ones.)

    1. Interesting how you´re so courtly towards your books but not with your college books 🙂

      Really, you never buy second hand books? I agree that new ones smell much better, but it´s so great that look read and are so cheap 🙂

  10. I’ve read that essay and I guess I more closely resemble the carnal lover. But Ben is certainly the courtly lover so we have disagreements on how to treat our collective books. 🙂

  11. Hmm…I don’t think I’m either, actually. I’m careful with my books – I don’t dogear (though like you I used to), I don’t write on them, I’m careful not to let crumbs fall on them, etc. But I do mark passages I like in pencil, and I don’t care if they look read. That’s what they’re for, right? 😛

    1. That´s what I think as well, looking read is not terrible at all! 🙂 No idea, why underlining or writing in books shocks me so much!

  12. Sounds like a very interesting essay!

    I’m not sure what I am. My books do show that they’ve been read. Especially thick books: I’m unable to keep the spine from showing I’ve read them and so I break them to give it the best possible look.
    Apart from that I’m always super careful with books: I don’t like writing in them (although I’m often fascinated when I find notes in librarybooks, but they’re also very annoying)and you can ask my parents about my rants on when they leave the book with the pages open, spine up, instead of using a piece of paper or a bookmark to indicate where they are and thus keep the book in a proper state.

    1. Oh and I wanted to add that I hope you enjoy your holiday! I’m sending the book today, so it should arrive in time at your parents’ home. (I hope).

      1. Thanks, Iris! I´m enjoying the holidays, especially now that it´s finally warm outside :)Thanks for sending the book, I´ll send yours tomorrow 🙂

        Haha, sounds like you´d leave a note “You must never do that to a book” in a book that´s left facedown, like in the essay 😀

        I also think that lines in the spine make a book look better!

  13. Definitely courtly reader… I have a bad reputation for scaring people when I lend them books… one was so frightened that she bought me a new replacement since she had discoloured it. I realise that normal wear tear will happen but if I lend out books and they come back defaced… Rambo PK becomes my new name… ;P

    I’s like to add a new category to this labelling if I may.. I would like to be considered a Passionate Reader: one who thrives to read the magic created by the writer… a lover for the duration of the book, and a soulmate to their imagination. How’s that? Can I consider you a Passionate Reader Bina?

    1. Haha, you´d scare me as well. I sometimes put books I´ve borrowed fom friends into extra bags so that nothing like light or looking at them might happen ando horrify the courtly owners 😀 Borrowing from courtly booklovers makes me so nervous 😉

      I´m pretty sure we´re all passionate readers! I know I am, books are magic! 🙂

  14. Ha! I love that term ‘carnal book lover’. I’m a little of both. You should be able to love a book and give it a little wear and tear. I don’t really annotate in books but I do make occasional markings in pencil. I’m guilty of breaking spines too but, really, how else are you going to get a paperback to open up? And laying books flat – sometimes I read until I can barely keep my eyes open, lay down the book to ‘rest’ my eyes then promptly fall asleep with the book lying open. There’s not much harm done. We should love our books!!

    I love that you packed the necessities in the suitcase first. 🙂

    1. I know, right? Sometimes the library stitches the books and I hardly know how to get them to open enough to read them!

      Hehe, resting your eyes 🙂 And the book is sure to survive being left open.

      Thanks, I had to make some drastic clothing decisions to make room for the books 😉

  15. Hey Bina!
    Have a great holiday with the family and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. Plus don’t forget to load up on the FOOD! Yes I said FOOD!

    Late Alligator 🙂

  16. I’m somewhere between courtly and carnal. I’m careful with them but if the spine cracks a bit while I’m reading it that’s ok. I more hate when the edges of the pages or the cover get creased or ragged.

  17. I became a courtly lover of books sometime last year. I have a temper, and my friends know that, so they try not to bend and/or dog-ear my books, but they eventually will. I’ll get mad, of course, but I’ll try to control my temper. Spine-breaking and dog-earing books should be a crime! At least, that’s what I think.

    1. Hahaha, then I’m a criminal 😀 But I completely respect books that belong to other people or the library and am very careful with those…but once I own the.. 😉

  18. OH MY GOODNESS people throw away whole chapters?? Do they have a heart?! I must confess I do have a bit of a carnal side, not so much as tearing pages, extensive dog-earring, total spine breaking etc nothing extreme.

    1. Heh yes, the shocking depths of carnal readers 😀 I think your in the.middle that’s really.good. I know people who put books in plastic cases if they take it on commute! My books can still be read even that one book I dropped in the bath 😀

        1. Ahahaha, I see what you did there! Well done you 🙂 I really did, unintentionally but there you go. Reading in bath is very risky and I spent ages blowdrying the book.

            1. Yup!! That’s why I’m not allowed any electronics anywhere in bathroom 😀 No netflix and bath for me. Book looks twice its former.size but it’s dry and readable so, win.:D

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