When it comes to books there are three types of people in the world.
There are those who see books as a resource to be consumed, those who see them as an almost religious artifact to be revered, and protected and those who have no interest. Both of the first two sets of people adore books, love literature and all it stands for and think a world without the written word would be a sorry, sorry place. That however is where the similarities end and the fine line of separation starts to widen into a gulf.
I have loved reading since I realised that decoding those squiggles meant I could get a story out of the thick cardboard pages of my nursery books. I saw being able to read and read well as a mystical, magical skill and I to certain extent, I still do. My mother filled every space of our home with shelf upon shelf of poetry and prose, fact and fiction, classical and modern; the greats, the good and the not so good and saw value in it all.
She taught me how to enjoy the smell of an old book; dusty, worn and full of knowledge and insight. Introduced me to the sensual beauty of a new book; the feel of fresh pages, smooth and crisp and eager to be read.
Each Christmas I would eagerly await my presents knowing there would be a stack of new books in there, all full of fresh and exciting adventures and things I didn’t yet know. I’d peel off the paper carefully, stroke the front cover, gently adjust the dust jacket and then open the first page to read the inscription. Right from the off I was a book worshipper.
My husband is a good man, but like all of us he has bad habits. His book reading habits though are enough to make me want to live in a different postcode. He is a consumer. He devours books at great speed, so focused on greedily pawing his way through the pages that he doesn’t give the book itself the appropriate respect. He will read while he’s eating, turning pages with jammy fingers or leave oily marks on the pages where he’s been eating crisps.
He will leave books in the bathroom until they get damp from the steam, their pages all wrinkled and withered like the veins on an old lady’s hands. Books never make it back to the shelf on finishing, they are unceremoniously stuffed everywhere; between sofa cushions, on windowsills, around the bed, in wardrobes, rolling around the passenger footwells of the car, abandoned like they were nothing more than an old till receipt.
The most heinous of all his crimes however, is that he will never use a bookmark. Pages are turned and folded at best, but more often than not they are held open by a half-full coffee cup, discarded plate or pages viciously forced akimbo and rammed face down on the nearest (not necessarily clean) surface. Spines scream as they are bent and creased and pages cry as they are coated in coffee dribble and I silently monitor the progress of my seizures wondering if I should be documenting this as an example of prolonged emotional torture for use in the murder trial.
If you are like my husband you will be sat there now shrugging, thinking: Seriously, what is her problem? It just shows that a book is read and loved if it shows a little wear and tear. To a certain extent I do agree with you, far better to see a book that has been read and enjoyed than one that has never been opened, but here is the crux of the matter: imagine you are me, with your shelves and shelves of cherished treasures, pristine in their dust jackets, spines creased just enough to show they’ve been opened, like literary laughter lines, the only marks on the pages where the tears elicited by the tales inside have fallen, the only creases in the pages are those made accidentally whilst in storage or transit. Now imagine that Oaf Boy up there; with his sticky fingers, coffee dribbles and spine-splitting tendencies is approaching said revered volumes, arms outstretched and full of intent. It’s like watching someone pick one of your children to mutilate. Of course, you can’t say anything other than a gentle “be careful with that” because after all you love Oaf Boy and you love that he wants to share in your love of these books, and you love that he is willing to let you share his favourites with you despite the fact you can rarely bring yourself to read them because they wail horrific tales of abuse, scaring on every page.
I’m sure he finds it just as hard watching me grimace as I do watching him and I’m sure that my neurosis seems as unreasonable to he and his ilk as their repeated torture does to me. So to all of you, whichever camp you belong to, heed my warning: pick carefully, and if you value your own sanity, stick with your own kind.