Do you remember the first book that ever meant something to you? Was it a picture book with crumpled corners from the library? Was is a pristine chapter book, newly purchased? Or was it a ragged, ratty, dog-eared mess from older siblings or other miscreants? As soon as I was old enough to love reading, I carried a book with me everywhere. And soon the barrage of mint condition books I received every birthday and Christmas looked less like the divine treasures that they were and more like the discard pile at a library.
They were dog-eared, with covers missing, pages ripped, and crumpled. Entire sections missing. Even a few corners rounded to stubs from my dog chewing on them while I was reading. Later, I was let in on a little secret. Bookmarks. Book bags. Bookshelves. Slowly my newer books maintained their newness longer. They stopped getting shoved in the bottom of backpacks, but got their own private luxury bag.
Pages were saved, no more creases, well, that might be an overstatement. I lost bookmarks faster than I could find them, so some dog-ears persisted, but not like before. My books had a home. They no longer were piled haphazardly in corners, on chairs, or shoved under pillows. I had learned responsibility! (corners were still sacrificed to my dogs teeth.) But, as often is the case, time turned backwards. My books returned to pile dwelling, shoved under my couch, and stacked haphazardly on top of cardboard boxes, or the floor. And of course, there's always a few suspended off the edge of my desk.
Looking at my stacks of disheveled books, I began to ask myself: What's more respectful to the books? Do I let them remain as new as the day I found them? Or, is it the ones dropped in puddles, baths, and dirt that know they are more treasured? Is a story important, because it’s new, or because its well known, loved, and worn down? Is the respect shown by leaving bindings in tact more for the owner, or the book itself. One person I talked to said that creasing the binder kills him. Well, I don’t have the answer. So I reached out to a few fellow book lovers to get their hot-takes.
One of the first signs a book has been well read, aside from a ripped cover, is if it has notes written in. Now, I’m not a huge writer in books, but I do know someone who is. I reached out to Professor Chad-Eric Bergman to ask about his thoughts on writing in books he said “Oh, you can pull just about any book of a shelf in [his office], and you can see that there is marginalia over everything.” He says that even though he writes in books, and has developed a code over the years. He has never used highlighters or markers in a book.
So maybe writing in a book is an acknowledgement to the book. A conversation. But one person's opinion is not everyone's, and here is where I turned to two of my friends, Caroline Paterson, and Hannah Nelson. They are both lovers of reading, and also much neater people than I am. When I asked them about writing they both agreed that they really only write in textbooks. Not usually novels.
So, sure a book that you are studying is different from a book you are reading, and that can have an impact on how the book gets treated. But what about storage? Do my books know they are loved because they were neat on a shelf, or because they are in haphazard piles?
Caroline said that the first thing she does when she gets a new book is to find a place on the shelf for that book. “My bookshelf is organized.” When I asked Payton Walles about his bookshelf habits, he said “A book doesn't get a spot on the shelf until i’ve fully read it. It will get a spot, but the lower shelf is harder to reach than the middle shelf, so we all know which books I read more”. So not only does every book get a spot on the shelf, but there is an organized hierarchy for Paytons bookshelf.
Now, at this point, i’m feeling a little worried. My books are in a pile on the floor, am I a bad book owner? Ethan Mershon had a thought or two about that. “I mean I just kinda throw em on the pile of books in the closet. I also have books in my parents house in buckets”. Storing books in buckets is a new one for me, but it doesn’t seem any more or less harmful than keeping them in piles. I turned to my roommate Jay Buhman to find out what he thinks. “If you wanna find one fast, shelves are probably better, but if you are just like these are all my books and I love them, then piles on the floor is definitely an aesthetic.” Jay doesn’t see a problem with any mode of storage, just ease of access, or the vibe you want to give.
But storage and notes is one things. Dogearing is a whole separate monster. I asked every person I interviewed and the general consensus was, bookmarks. And dog-earing only if its a passage they want to go back to. Hannah Nelson said “I try not to [dogear], but I will if I can’t find a bookmark”. So, I guess there are lots of ways to take care of a book. A book loved because of the content, not its appearance. And there are so many ways to take care well loved books, is there a certain way that is better than the rest? Not that I can tell. When I find myself glancing at the stories that truly matter to me, I can’t help but notice that every single one of them has creases in the top corners. And it makes me remember.