Saturday, August 9, 2008

How to Care for Your Books, Take 2

Several years ago, as a special gift for buying something from Book-of-the-Month Club, I received a copy of Michael Dirda's little paperback, Caring for Your Books. I thought, "This is the book for me! No one cares for books more than I." Then I read it. With apologies to Dirda, since I know he writes regularly about reading, what I read did not meet my expectations. He advised against eating while reading, against loaning books (which, he suggested, no one actually read or returned), against actually reading your books. That would be the best way to keep them in their pristine condition so what when I shuffle off this mortal coil, my heirs can get the most for them at auction.

I do love books. I collect books. I am quite proud of a nice collection of signed books. Some of them are paperbacks. Not a lot of collector value (monetarily, at least) but they are mine. Some of them have personal inscriptions (also not good for resale value). Guess what? I even read them. I have let friends (only close friends) borrow them.

But the books I value most have pencil marks, underlinings, heavy notes in the inside back cover. When I reread a book, I often turn to the back to make a note, only to learn that I was struck by the same passage years before. Some of my books have food stains or blood stains (darn those paper cuts!). My copy of Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings has lipstick prints--and they aren't even my lips; I bought the book used. Some of the books I have read the most and taught often are held together by rubberbands. Some are flagged with little sticky note page markers. But do I hear the whispery voices of my books on the shelves muttering, "If only she cared for us..."? Why, certainly not.

This week on Writers Almanac, Keillor marked the birthday of writer and editor Anne Fadiman (You can check it out at the Writers Almanac website. Look for August 6, 2008, in the archives.) The final comments were my favorite:
"Her collection of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998), is about her deep love of books. She believes that if you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs."

Now Mr. Dirda, let me show you a woman who really knows how to love a book.


Amber said...

Amen, sister! A friend recently offered to replace a book she had borrowed and taken to the beach, because it got a little damp around the edges and sand in its crevices. Absolutely not, I said. Now it has a whole other story to tell!

Susan M. Bell said...

Ditto. Crinkles, crumbs, page markings...all signs of a well-loved book.