Saturday, March 31, 2007

Book abuse

In the New York Times last week, an essay by Ben Schott in which he talked about abusing books*. You know, turning down the corners, leaving them splayed open, marking them up.

I love it when readers of my book tell me their copy is all marked up. I don't consider it abuse. I consider it love.

Although I did loan a friend a brand new book and it was returned to me, abused. Coffee stains, wrinkled. And it made me unhappy.

But I must admit to you here and now: I am a book abuser. An inadvertant abuser.

I left the book that you see on the table on the back patio last summer. I brought it out to Travis who was on the chair hammock and we never brought it back in. I figured others would look at it, namely Brian's guitar students or their parents. It seemed, of all the books I own, the one book that should be available to the public, to kids.

Through the searing sun, through the rain, through the Santa Ana winds and the itinerant cats in the neighborhood, and who knows what else, the book has remained on the patio table. Sometimes it's positioned in such a way that I'm sure someone has been looking at it, maybe even reading it.

I suppose I abused the book, but look how sturdy it is, for a mere paperback.

How are you with your books?

* If you go to the NYT, you probably won't be able to access Schott's essay unless you pay. I found it on this blog, unabridged.


Marrie said...

Normally, I'm not a book abuser. I love the cleanliness of a book -- the unbroken spine, the unmarked lines, the untouched look of it on the shelf.

But, when I'm working on a book for the radio show, when I'm in deep study of it and dissecting every part in anticipation of talking to the author, I can't resist marking it up.

I fear I'm the culprit behind your poor abused book. I gave "Golem Song" a very rough read. The more the markings, the more the pages and passages are bent and marked, the more it means I loved it. An indication that the book demanded study and comment. So poor "Golem Song" returned to you very well loved, because it was. I'm sorry!

Anonymous said...

Oh, no no no. It wasn't you. It was someone I'm pretty sure never reads this worries!

Technomommy said...

I generally fall into the same category as marrie.

Perhaps my lack of book abuse stems from public school teachers stressing that we only write in workbooks. In college, a professor told us we should highlight text and write notes in the margins of our books. I was horrified. Defile a book? No way! College texts were expensive and I imagined myself collecting my perfect texts so I could add them to my future personal library. Later, I warmed to the idea, but only wrote in an occasional textbook. Of course, I learned that an “abused” textbook could be more valuable than a new book if the previous owner infused it with knowledge the book previously did not possess.

I have never marked a novel, but when I read an “abused” novel with notes in its borders, crumbs peeking from its pages, tattered edges or crinkled covers, I'm inclined to imagine the soul of the previous reader.

IRENE said...

I absolutely write on books. Fiction and non-fiction. Underline and highlight with colored pens, if I am researching something academic, according to the different questions I want answered, I write my own comments in the margins, and lately I have even used a plain blue pen. Anything really as long as the reading gets done (let us not talk about the writing, for now).

In my view, a book well read is like a person who has lived and has been loved. Would you regret your tummy's stretch marks? I wouldn't for the whole world. So, I consider my notes and underlines a labor of love. The author takes me by the hand and leads me to the world she wants us to share. We may get mud in our shoes, but to me, there is no other way.Needless to say, Pen on Fire belongs to the loved but gently abused ones; only pencil remarks!
I love all my books.And they love me back. I have the fiction book I read on the beach while expecting, and it's still got sand among its pages. But that is how I want it.

What you did with the Tom Sawyer book, consciously or unconsciously, was the right thing to do. You generously gave to whoever was willing to accept. That's a wonderful thing to do.

Lissa Ann Forbes said...

This is a great treatise on the imprint books make on our lives. Although there is a part of me that believes the more "abused" a book is, the greater the impact it made on the reader, I too was brought up to respect books and writing or highlighting or underlining was akin to murder.

I have two experiences that come to mind with this.

First, I know the book that REALLY mattered to me when the dog-eared pages make the upper right corner flare with the fullness and richness of the unwritten comment: "Something important lies on this page." The one that speaks so highly of the compliment for me is The Dragon Doesn't Live Here Anymore by Alan Cohen. That book was written in the 80s and I still go back to it and visit the dog-eared pages.

And then another, I ordered Natalie Goldberg's Thunder and Lightning. I thought I had order an unmarked used copy from Amazon and when it arrived it was littered with someone else's blue ball point pen underlinings. I've yet to be able to read it ... I guess I want to come to my own conclusions, not someone else's. I find it distracting to have another's view of what's important on the page.

In closing, books are my friends. They tell me what I need to know when I'm ready to hear it. They entertain me. They console me. Trusted friends.

Thanks Barbara, for posting this lovely blog.

Deborah said...

I borrow books from my library and buy a notebook to jot down notes. I hate doing it this way. I WANT TO WRITE IN THE BOOK. Sometimes I buy fancy notebooks - moleskins to makeup for NOT WRITING IN THE BOOK, but it doesn't alleviate the urge to write in the book.

I like to 'talk' to the author when I'm reading. I like to draw in the the margins or invent my own concordance; I underscore words I always mispell or don't know the meaning of. I too 'abuse' books.

I eventually return the library book and go and buy my own copy and start all over again, with my pen and my thoughts... Sometimes I find that I've grown in that short span of time and I've come into a different awarenesss. I like when that happens. I make a note to write the author to ask if she has changed as well.